Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou faces new charges over leaks scandal

Former President Ma Ying-jeou appears in court for his political leaks controversy, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 10, 2017.
Former President Ma Ying-jeou appears in court for his political leaks controversy, in Taipei, Taiwan, on Jan 10, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) -  Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou was slapped with new charges on Tuesday (March 14) in a political leaks controversy, just weeks before he faces possible conviction in another related case.

While still in office, Ma was protected by political immunity. But since he stepped down as leader in May last year he has been hit with a range of corruption and other allegations. Ma’s Beijing-friendly Kuomintang held power from 2008 to 2016, before they were trounced by Tsai Ing-wen and her opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

Taipei prosecutors acting on behalf of the government charged Ma on Tuesday with leaking secrets about a confidential judicial probe into the island’s then premier Jiang Yi-huah and an aide in 2013.

They also accused him of instructing a top prosecutor to disclose confidential information to Jiang.

The 2013 investigation at the heart of the controversy was looking into whether the parliamentary speaker at the time – a political rival of Ma – had influenced a case against an opposition lawmaker.

“Even though Ma has declared he was unaware of and would not interfere with (an ongoing probe), he leaked information that should have been kept confidential,” said Chang Chieh-chin, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.

Ma was indicted for violating the communication security and surveillance act, which carries a maximum three-year jail term.

He has already appeared in court three times over separate charges brought by a lawmaker relating to leaks about the same judicial probe.

That lawsuit accuses Ma of asking the then prosecutor-general to leak secrets to him about the investigation. The verdict is due later this month.

Ma is the third ex-president in Taiwan to be indicted on criminal charges.

His predecessor Chen Shui-bian was serving a 20-year sentence for corruption until he was freed on medical parole in 2015.

Lee Teng-hui was charged with embezzling state funds during his 1988-2000 presidency, but was acquitted.

Ma’s office protested his innocence in a statement on Tuesday, saying he was “carrying out his duties as the president when handling a major scandal involving interfering with the judiciary”.

“It should not constitute a crime,” the statement said.