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Former president barred from leaving Taiwan

world Updated: Aug 17, 2008 10:22 IST
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Prosecutors barred Taiwan's former president from leaving the island on Sunday pending investigations into an alleged money laundering scandal.

The order came a day after prosecutors searched Chen Shui-bian's residence in Taipei and took away boxes of documents. "The accounting books and computers we obtained could help with clarifying the case," said Chu Chao-liang, spokesman for the Supreme Prosecutors' Administration.

Chen admitted last week that he broke the law by not fully disclosing campaign donations he had received. He later said his wife, Wu Shu-chen, had wired US$20 million to Switzerland. Taiwanese media said Wu told prosecutors that the money wired to Switzerland included donation leftovers and family savings intended for use in unspecified investment.

Chen's surprise declaration has stunned the island and disheartened loyalists, who had not wavered in their support even with Chen's family became mired in a series of corruption scandals over the past year.

But sending such a large sum abroad was seen as a betrayal to Chen's repeated vows to safeguard Taiwan's interests and never abandon the island. The former leader often accused the opposition of planning to sell out Taiwan's interests to China _ the island's biggest security threat.

An elderly supporter, Huang Chao-tang, called Chen and Wu the "shame of Taiwan." He told CTI Cable News, "I wish they could vanish from Earth."

Prosecutors said they were looking into allegations that Chen and Wu wired the money into their daughter-in-law's Swiss bank account. Shih Ming-teh, a former leader of Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, said the money could be the tip of the iceberg. He accused Chen of taking at least 2.7 billion New Taiwan dollars (US$85 million) from an entrepreneur bidding for bank ownership during a spate of mergers initiated by the government in 2005. He refused to identify the businessman.

Chen left the presidency in May 2008, two months after the candidate of his party was beaten in the presidential poll by the then-opposition Nationalists.