Taiwan's High Court has cleared the opposition's presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou, of charges of corruption and breach of trust. As VOA's Kate Woodsome reports from Hong Kong, the ruling clears the way for Ma to run for the country's top post in next year's elections.
The court in Taipei found the Nationalist Party's Ma Ying-jeou not guilty Friday of diverting $344,000 in public funds to his personal account while serving as Taipei mayor between 1998 and 2006.
The court also found him not guilty of breach of trust. The judgment upholds a lower court's finding from August.
Triumphant Ma supporters cheered and waved flags outside the courthouse in response to the ruling. If convicted, Ma would have been barred from the upcoming presidential election.
Instead, he is on track to face Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in the March 22 election.
Dachi Liao, a political science professor at Taiwan's National Sun Yat-Sen University, says that, despite Ma's courtroom victory, the DPP likely will still try to use the case against him.
"Currently they already accuse Ma is morally incorrect, not really legally incorrect. Maybe legally okay, but morally, he committed a certain problem. So, Ma still has to be very careful dealing with this kind of issue," she said.
The corruption charges come from a decades-old system that allots special funds to higher-ranking government officials. Analysts say the rules governing the funds are vague.
Ma has always denied wrongdoing, saying Taiwan law recognized the fund as an official subsidy of his salary.
Prosecutors have one last chance to appeal Ma's acquittal. If it happens, the appeals trial would be at about the same time as the presidential election.
Professor Liao says in the court of public opinion, Ma does not have to worry too much.
"For [the] majority of people in Taiwan just don't believe Ma Ying-jeou has really committed a certain crime," said Liao.
Ma is running on a platform that promises to improve Taiwan's economy with strengthened trade ties with mainland China.
Public opinion polls show him well ahead of his DPP rival, who favors complete independence from China.
Taiwan broke from China in 1949 during a civil war. Taiwan is self-governing and democratic, but Beijing still considers the island a part of its territory and says it will go to war with Taiwan if it formally declares independence.