TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou has questioned his predecessor Chen Shui-bian's claims in the wake of the former head of state's confession that he had remitted undeclared campaign donations out of Taiwan.
Ma, commenting Thursday in Paraguay on a case widely alleged as money laundering by Chen, said it was not the suspect of a crime who could "determine the direction" of the investigation.

The president said involvement in alleged money laundering would make one a crime suspect, and the nature of the Chen's case would have to be determined by the judiciary.

He said the huge sums that Chen had admitted to have transferred out of Taiwan may not necessarily have come from campaign donations.

Asked if Chen was trying to blur the focus of the case, Ma replied, "We'll see."

But he declined to comment on Chen's allegations that many high profile political figures, including Ma and former President Lee Teng-hui, had all hidden their campaign funds.

Ma said it was only Chen's "personal opinion."

He said the focus of the case should be on where Chen's money actually came from. 

Chen publicly admitted at a press conference Thursday to have committed "something not allowed by the law" shortly after the press alleged that he had large sums of money in Swiss bank accounts, in the name of his daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching.

But he maintained that the money was from unused campaign funds from previous elections.

He claimed in a press statement released yesterday that the money had nothing to with any of the corruption scandals, including the NT$1 billion swindled by two diplomatic relations brokers, that investigators are looking into.

He also clarified that the total is only US$20 million, instead of US$30 as reported in some news reports.

Wang Chien-shien, head of the Control Yuan, said the government watchdog body could do very little to punish Chen.

He said the Control Yuan could only slap Chen with small fines if he really failed to reveal the campaign funds in his annual asset declarations.

It would be the prosecutors' job to determine whether the case involved corruption or any scams, Wang added. 

He said many angry people would want to spit on Chen or smash the TV sets while watching the former president apologizing Thursday during the televised press conference.

But voters should also realize that they are partly to blame because they elected Chen.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan declined to talk about the case in details, as prosecutors are already looking into it.

But he promised that the government will do all it can to reveal the truth.

He said he was informed of the case two weeks ago, and then ordered an investigation into the case both in Taiwan and overseas.

Former President Lee dismissed Chen's claims that he had remitted NT$1 billion out of Taiwan through dummy accounts, according to a press statement from his office.The statement said Lee was shocked and angry upon hearing Chen's false accusations. 

While Chen and his wife Wu Shu-chen have been banned from leaving the country because of prosecutors' case against them over their alleged misuse of the presidential state affairs funds, their son and daughter-in-law already left Taiwan on Aug. 9.

Prosecutor Chu Chao-liang, the spokesman for the ad hoc team handling the state affairs funds case, said Chen Chih-chung and Huang Jui-ching were not suspects in the case, and therefore no travel ban was imposed on them. 

But the team from the Special Investigation Unit under the State Public Prosecutor General Office, confirmed that it will now conduct a thorough probe of all the overseas assets belonging to the former first family.

The team will also investigate the families of Chen's in-laws to see if they are also involved in alleged money laundering.

The team also plans to question the former first lady over the fresh allegations.

The Special Investigation Unit was cited by the State Public Prosecutor General Office as saying that scope of the probe will be "unprecedented."

According to revelations in the press, the son and his wife played a crucial role in the remittance of the money out of Taiwan.

The Taipei District Prosecutors' Office has already dispatched a senior prosecutor to Switzerland to get more details of the case from Swiss authorities, who have frozen Huang's bank accounts in their investigation of alleged money laundering, the United Evening News reported.

The paper said Swiss prosecutors have asked Taiwan to provide figures concerning the former president's incomes, and information concerning the occupations of his son and daughter-in-law, to help determine the nature of the money.

The Taipei prosecutor is expected to return to Taiwan tomorrow, the paper added.

Chen, his family and close aides have been dogged by corruption probes over the past few years.

His son-in-law Chao Chien-ming, as well as Chao's father, are currently appealing against the guilty verdicts in an insider trading case.


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