TAIPEI - Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian left prison Monday on medical parole after several years due to declining health. Chen had served less than a third of his prison term. He was imprisoned on charges related to graft during his time in office when he also angered Taiwan’s political rival China by seeking the island’s independence.
Chen headed to his family’s home in south Taiwan after leaving prison. He was six years into a 20-year sentence for bribery, money laundering and other corruption-related charges. His lawyer, Shih Yi-lin, said he had developed severe depression and incontinence, among other ailments.
He said the ex-president's condition had developed to a where he lacked dignity. When he wants to talk to people, Shih said, it takes someone else to push his wheelchair and he walks with a cane. The lawyer added that 15 medical experts have unanimously said Chen could be given treatment outside prison and that this outcome should be in accordance with the law.
When in office from 2000 to 2008, Chen made a name for distancing self-ruled Taiwan from China, which claims the island as its own. Beijing fumed because Chen would not agree that that China and Taiwan belong to the same country and he advocated for drafting a new constitution that was widely believed would advance Taiwan's independence. The standoff made most dialogue impossible and prompted military threats from China.
Chen also irked the United States, which wanted stronger China-Taiwan relations. Washington eventually restricted Chen's transit on U.S. soil when he was flying from Taiwan to diplomatic allies in Latin America.
Since 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou has eased ties with both superpowers, leading to 21 landmark agreements with China.
In 2009, a court convicted Chen of graft-related charges involving $20 million, making him Taiwan's first ex-president to serve time for crimes in office. His wife and two other family members were also convicted. Chen disputes all charges, calling them part of a political plot.
The Justice Ministry's Agency of Corrections said Monday Chen could live at home because his neurological condition had deteriorated to where it could not be treated in prison. The agency said it had factored justice and humanitarianism into its decision. Last week, a 15-person team of medical experts also recommended that the agency grant medical parole.
Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang gave a news conference Monday summarizing the findings of medical experts, where he said Chen Shui-bian's neurological health has deteriorated. He's not able to get by on his own in normal life now and needs to be examined, cared for and given assistance regularly, the official said, adding that the ministry thinks such medical treatment cannot be effectively provided in prison.
Political analysts say the former president's medical parole will satisfy a faction of opposition party supporters who felt he had served enough time, but that his release will have no major impact on Taiwan politics. Some believe Monday's decision shows that the ruling Nationalist Party, which lost to Chen's opposition Democratic Progressive Party in local elections
November 29, may have allowed medical parole to appear conciliatory.
The corrections agency said Chen Shui-bian must return to prison in as little as a month if health exams find him fit.