A Taiwanese court on Tuesday cleared the main opposition's presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou of corruption charges after a high-profile trial, a verdict expected to boost his chances in the race.
While the ruling party cried foul, citing political interference, Ma hailed what he called a "milestone ruling."
"I am not excited about the verdict because I knew from the very beginning that I'm innocent," said Ma, who chaired the nationalist Kuomintang party (KMT) until he resigned following his indictment.
Outside court, dozens of supporters holding placards and chanting slogans burst into cheers on hearing the ruling.
The former justice minister, once tasked with stamping out corruption, was charged with misusing more than 11 million Taiwan dollars (330,000 US dollars) in expense accounts during his time as Taipei mayor from 1998 to 2006.
Ma denied the charges, insisting he acted in exactly the same way as some 6,500 other government chiefs entitled to special expenses.
He blasted the legal process as "a waste of national resources" and called on the state not to appeal, saying it would take up to 1,000 prosecutors and a decade to look into all the senior officials entitled to such expenses.
"This is good news for the Kuomintang and its supporters" after six months of corruption allegations, said George Tsai, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University.
"An immediate and effective impact will be a boost of their morale," Tsai told AFP.
But he warned Ma had still not cleared all the hurdles as prosecutors could appeal the verdict.
It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would do so. They have 10 days to do so, but if they do go ahead, the High Court would hand out its verdict shortly before the March presidential vote.
Ma is locked in a tight race to succeed President Chen Shui-bian, standing against former premier Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
"Ma Ying-jeou is not guilty," the Tapei court's chief judge announced in a brief ruling.
Court spokesman Liu Shou-sung said the judges "found Ma made no attempt to obtain illegal benefits."
"Nor had he used tricks to mislead his (Taipei city government) accountants and auditing staff into wrongdoing," he said.
Accordingly, "the charges of corruption and breach of trust against Ma do not stand."
The DPP immediately hit out. "The ruling indicates politics has interfered in the judicial system," DPP legislator Hsieh Hsin-ying said.
Another DPP legislator, Wang Shih-chien, said he "could not figure out how the judges could make such a ruling, which runs against the public's consensus of corruption. Taiwan's justice is dead."
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 expenses claims.
Ma's running mate is veteran economist Vincent Siew, while the DPP's Hsieh has invited former premier Su Tseng-chang onto his ticket, according to news reports.
Hsieh has also come under prosecutors' investigation for alleged misused of campaign donations during his 2002 run for the mayor's office in the southern city of Kaohsiung.
Last Mod: 14 Ağustos 2007, 14:14