TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan opposition presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's High Court trial for alleged corruption opened Friday, two months after he was cleared by a lower court.
Ma, former chairman of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), was greeted by dozens of supporters waving his photo and placards reading "Return Ma Ying-jeou his innocence" outside the court house.
"I have firm confidence in my innocence and high expectations of the court, especially after I was found not guilty in the earlier trial," he told reporters.
The Taipei District Court in August cleared Ma of graft when he was mayor of Taipei city. Prosecutors immediately appealed against the ruling.
It remains to be seen whether the High Court will hand out its verdict before the March 22 presidential election. If convicted of corruption, Ma faces a minimum of seven years in prison but he could still appeal to the Supreme Court.
However, under the election law, he would be disqualified from running for president if the High Court imposed a jail term of more than 10 years.
Ma, a former justice minister and graft buster, was indicted for allegedly misusing more than 11 million Taiwan dollars (330,000 US dollars) in expense accounts during his tenure as Taipei mayor from 1998 to 2006. He was also charged with breach of trust.
Ma denied the allegations, insisting he had acted in exactly the same way as some 6,500 other government chiefs entitled to special expenses.
One of Ma's former aides at Taipei city hall, however, was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He had been charged with switching receipts in filing Ma's expense claims.
Ma is locked in a tight race against former premier Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Last month Hsieh and his running mate Su Tseng-chang were cleared of graft due to a lack of evidence but three other DPP heavyweights, including Vice President Annette Lu, were indicted on graft and forgery charges.
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