Taiwan court upholds acquittal of former president Lee on embezzlement charges

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's high court on Wednesday upheld the acquittal of former leader Lee Teng-hui on charges of embezzling state funds during his presidency between 1988 and 2000, citing a lack of evidence.

The court rejected an appeal filed by prosecutors, saying they failed to prove the claims that Lee embezzled US$7.79 million (S$9.7 million) from the government's diplomatic slush funds while in office to help set up a private think-tank.

Prosecutors are barred from appealing to the supreme court under a new speedy trial law unless they can prove that the verdict contradicts the constitution or other precedents, the court said.

It affirmed a ruling by the Taipei district court last year to clear Lee of corruption charges due to lack of evidence since he did not sign several official documents related to the misuse of funds.

Lee, 91, became the second former Taiwanese president to face graft charges. His successor Chen Shui-bian is serving a 20-year jail term on multiple graft convictions.

Lee still enjoys support from the island's pro-independence camp and has been a vocal critic of the current government's China-friendly policies.

He has flatly rejected the graft accusations, claiming they were "invented" by the government to persecute a high-profile critic. Current President Ma Ying-jeou has denied meddling in his graft case.

Lee irked Beijing during his presidency by promoting a separate identity for Taiwan. Beijing fired missiles near the island in 1995 and 1996, triggering a US decision to send two naval carrier groups to the area. Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war but Beijing still sees the self-ruled island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary. However, tensions have eased markedly since Ma came to power in 2008.

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