TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwanese prosecutors indicted former President Chen Shui-bian on graft charges Friday, a stunning blow for a man who rode to power 8 1/2 years ago on promises to reform the island's corrupt political culture.
Chen, 57, has been held in a suburban Taipei jail since Nov. 12 pending the results of an investigation into allegations he engaged in money laundering and other offenses during his recently concluded time in office.
Indicted together with Chen were his wife, Wu Shu-chen, his son and daughter-in-law, three of his former aides in the presidential office, and eight other associates and family members.
Prosecutorial spokesman Chen Yun-nan said the former president and his wife together embezzled $3.12 million from a special presidential fund, and received bribes of $9 million in connection with a government land procurement deal.
He said Wu alone took another bribe of $2.73 million from a government construction project.
"Chen Shui-bian undermined justice again and again and showed no regret," Chen Yun-nan said. "We ask the judges to give him ... Wu, (son) Chen Chih-chung and Chen Chih-chung's wife, Huang Jui-ching ... the most severe sentence."
Chen could face up to 20 years in jail.
Chen has denied all charges, saying he is being persecuted by President Ma Ying-jeou's new government for the strong anti-China stance that marked the waning years of his presidency.
At a news conference convened shortly after the indictments were announced, Chen's lawyer echoed his client's claims of innocence.
"What prosecutors are charging President Chen and his wife with is not true," said Cheng Sheng-chu.
Ma's office said it would not comment on the indictments.
Chen, who ended a 50-year monopoly on power by Ma's Nationalist Party in 2000, was first elected on promises to end official corruption in Taiwan.
His desire to carve out an independent political and cultural identity for Taiwan's 23 million people became the hallmark of his administration, which ended due to term limits seven months ago.
The son of poor farmers from the southern part of the island, Chen first came to prominence in the early 1980s defending dissidents jailed under the Nationalists' martial law regime.
In 1985 Chen's wife was run down by a truck and paralyzed from the waist down at the conclusion of a failed election campaign in the southern county of Tainan. The Chen family charged that the Nationalists were responsible, but the Nationalists denied the accusation.
Since Chen was jailed on Nov. 12, the corruption scandal has galvanized Taiwanese from all walks of life.
The former leader went on hunger strike the day of his incarceration but began eating again after 16 days, heeding pleas from his wife and family to preserve his strength.
Chen, a former maritime lawyer, is expected to mount a vigorous defense against the corruption charges.
He still retains a core of enthusiastic supporters, but many former political allies have turned their backs on him, regarding him as a liability to the pro-independence cause both he and they espouse.