Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou's ex-confidante Lai Su-ju gets 10 years for graft

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou raises his fist after giving a speech during National Day celebrations in front of the presidential office in Taipei on Oct 10, 2014. A Taiwanese politician with close ties with the president was sentenced to 10 y
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou raises his fist after giving a speech during National Day celebrations in front of the presidential office in Taipei on Oct 10, 2014. A Taiwanese politician with close ties with the president was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges, a court said on Friday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese politician with close ties with the president was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges, a court said on Friday.

The conviction of Lai Su-ju is yet another blow to President Ma Ying-jeou's ruling party that has been struggling to shore up support ahead of the regional elections in late November following a string of controversies, including two food safety scandals that sparked public outrage.

Lai, a member of the Taipei City Council, was convicted of soliciting a NT$10 million (S$420,000) bribe to facilitate a massive construction project in the capital, the Taipei district court said.

"Lai sold out her position in order to seek illegal gains which damaged the image of the government ... she has also tried to dodge responsibility and shown no remorse," the court said in a statement.

She can appeal the ruling.

Lai was taken into custody in March 2013 when the case came to light but was later released on bail.

She has admitted accepting NT$1 million but insisted that it was a political donation rather than a bribe.

The 50-year-old was a rising star in the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party and formerly served as its spokeswoman. She was also the director of Ma's office in the KMT.

As a lawyer, she had represented Ma and other top politicians in several high-profile court cases.

She is the second KMT politician with close links to the president to be implicated in corruption scandals, after former party vice chairman and top Cabinet official Lin Yi-shih was indicted on graft charges in 2012.

Lin was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison last year for pocketing more than NT$60 million in bribes.

Taiwan has been rocked by a string of corruption scandals involving top officials in recent years, including ex-president Chen Shui-bian who is currently serving a 20-year jail term on multiple graft convictions.