Taiwan court orders retrial of general cleared in conscript's death

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's top court on Wednesday (Jan 27) ordered a retrial of a senior military official acquitted over the death of a young conscript that sparked widespread anger and brought down the then defence minister.

Corporal Hung Chung-chiu, 24, died of heatstroke on July 4, 2013 just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service.

His family said Hung was forced to do excessive exercise as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base, and that he had previously filed complaints about other abuse meted out by his superiors.

Prosecutors had said that Hung was subjected to "cruel and abusive" exercises when indicting a number of military officials over his death.

Major General Shen Wei-chih, the former commander of Hung's brigade, was sentenced to six months in prison by a district court in 2014 on charges of abusing his authority to confine the young conscript.

Shen was among 13 military officials jailed by the court which also cleared five others for their roles in the case.

The high court cleared Shen a year later on the ground that he did not actually inflict harm on the young man or could have predicted the tragic outcome - a ruling overturned by the supreme court on Wednesday.

"Doubt remains over whether or not he (Shen) fulfilled his obligation to look after (a subordinate) and if this was a negligence or an indirect but intentional act ... which should be thoroughly investigated and reviewed," the supreme court said in a statement.

Hung's case was one of the worst scandals to have hit the military and triggered massive street protests that brought down then defence minister Kao Hua-chu. It also dealt a big blow to the government of President Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval ratings were plummeting at the time.

Ma, of the China-friendly ruling Kuomintang, has less than four months left of his term and will be succeeded by Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who won presidential elections in a landslide victory earlier this month.