Taiwan's ex-president Ma Ying-jeou in court in leak case

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's ex-president Ma Ying-jeou appeared in court on Tuesday (Nov 08) as a defendant for the first time since leaving office, protesting his innocence in a political leaks controversy.

Ma is accused of pressuring a former prosecutor-general to leak secrets about a confidential judicial probe in 2013 and of defaming a lawmaker.

The case is one of a number being brought against Ma, who served as president from 2008 till May this year when he handed the reins to rival Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Until he stepped down, he had been protected by political immunity but now his rivals are keen to have their day in court.

The variety of cases being brought against him make a wide range of allegations, including failing to declare assets and benefiting a company in a stadium construction project.

Ma denied any wrongdoing in court Tuesday, where he is charged with soliciting confidential information and violating the Communication Security and Surveillance Act and the Personal Information Protection Act.

"I not only have committed no crime but I want to stress again that no one should influence an ongoing legal case," he told the court.

He is accused of asking Huang Shyh-ming, the prosecutor-general at the time, to leak secrets to him about the highly-charged 2013 probe.

The inquiry was investigating allegations that the then-parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-pying had used his influence to get prosecutors to drop a breach of trust case against lawmaker Ker Chien-ming of Tsai's DPP, which was then in opposition.

Last year Huang was sentenced to 15 months in prison for leaking confidential information to Ma relating to the probe.

Ma was also accused Tuesday of defaming Ker by implying that the legislator had sought to influence the court case against him.

Scores of protesters rallied outside the Taipei district court, some holding signs reading "Detain Ma Ying-jeou".

Ma also appeared in court twice in August in a libel case which he filed against a media commentator who accused him of taking illicit political donations.