Taiwan's ex-leader Ma in court over libel case

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou speaks to journalists during a press conference in Taipei on June 16, 2016.
Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou speaks to journalists during a press conference in Taipei on June 16, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's former president Ma Ying-jeou made his first appearance in court Tuesday (Aug 2) in a long-running libel case against a commentator who claimed he had taken illicit political donations.

It comes as Ma himself faces a series of cases brought by political rivals now that his presidential immunity has ended.

Those cases make a range of allegations, including accusing Ma of leaking political secrets, failing to declare assets and benefiting a company in a controversial stadium construction project.

Ma served as president for two terms, from 2008 to May this year when he handed the reins to rival Tsai Ing-wen.

He made no statements during Tuesday's hearing at the High Court, which has been reviewing his appeal after a district court cleared commentator and radio show host Clara Chou.

Outside court he denied that he had accepted Tw$200 million (S$8.5 million) in political donations from a company seeking favours.

Ma filed defamation lawsuits in 2014 against Chou for alleging that he accepted illicit political donations from food giant Ting Hsin International Group, which has been hit by a string of safety scandals.

"I did not accept Tw$200 million in political donations from Ting Hsin or benefit (the company). This is very clear," Ma told reporters.

Chou accused him of accepting under-the-table funds to act as the firm's "guardian", an allegation which sparked public anger following the scandals.

Ma firmly rejected the allegation, saying his government fully investigated the company's alleged involvement and indicted dozens of people.

Chou was cleared by Taipei district court last December on the ground of freedom of expression.

Ma won the leadership in 2008 with the biggest landslide in Taiwan's democratic history, favoured by a public fed up with the scandals of his predecessor Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who was jailed for corruption.

However, Ma's popularity plummeted during his eight-year run, with the public unnerved by policies seen as linking the island too closely with rival China and benefiting big business rather than ordinary people.