Taiwan's former first lady admitted to laundering $2.2 million and forging documents Tuesday — the latest in a judicial process that has seen her husband stage a jailhouse hunger strike, her daughter lash out at media, and her son plead guilty to similar charges.
Wu Shu-bian, who arrived in her wheelchair looking wan in an orange Burberry jacket and light gray trousers, told a three-judge panel that she sent abroad $2.2 million she received from a contractor in connection with a government construction project and that she forged documents related to a special presidential fund.
However, she did not admit to charges of embezzling money from the fund and other charges of taking bribes in connection with a land deal and the government construction project.
The case against Wu is part of a complex web of charges that has also ensnared her husband, former President Chen Shui-bian, who is currently in jail awaiting trial on the same charges, as well as her son, daughter-in-law and brother.
Wu's appearance was her first at the court since proceedings against her began in December 2006. She fainted early on in that session and was rushed to a Taipei hospital.
After Tuesday's session was adjourned, Wu told reporters that she regretted the considerable social and personal dislocation her case had caused.
"I apologize for involving several innocent family members ... also for causing turmoil in Taiwan society," she said.
A family affair?
The slew of charges against the Chens has captivated the island of 23 million people, particularly since last May when Chen left office and prosecutors announced they were opening a graft investigation against him.
Six months later he was arrested on charges of money laundering, forging documents, taking bribes and embezzlement and spent 32 days in jail pending the completion of the probe against him.
On Jan. 19 he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
However, two days later, Chen Chih-chung, the Chens' son, pleaded guilty to money laundering as did Chen's daughter-in-law and Wu's brother.
Political science professor Hou Han-chun of National Taipei University said Wu's actions Tuesday appeared to be part of a strategy to clear herself and her husband of the bribery charges against them.
He said prosecutors would have difficulty proving that she took bribes because of her continuing insistence that large sums of money in her possession came from political donations.
"Prosecutors must prove that she sought to influence her husband after taking the money, and that will be pretty difficult," Hou said.
Former president's hunger strike
Fanning interest in the legal proceedings has been Taiwan's brutally effervescent media — including its six 24-hour cable TV news stations — which have chronicled its every twist and turn.
A favorite media target has been Chen daughter Chen Hsing-yu, who has frequently lashed out at television reporters — most recently berating journalists in New York.
Chen Shui-bian also egged on interest in the case when he engaged in a 16-day jail hunger strike to buttress his claims that successor Ma Ying-jeou is persecuting him to curry favor with China.
Chen, a strong advocate of Taiwanese independence, has lashed out at Ma's policies of increasing trade and political contacts with the mainland, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.
Wu was paralyzed from the waist down in 1985 after she was run down three times by a truck after her husband's unsuccessful electoral bid for a county magistrate position in southern Taiwan. Chen later said the incident was engineered by the rival Nationalist Party as an act of political vengeance. The Nationalists have always denied the charge.