Court upholds ex-Prez's detention

TAIPEI: Taiwan's High Court on Friday upheld its earlier decision to keep former President Chen Shui-bian in detention after the Supreme Court ordered it to hold a hearing on the matter, an official said.

The Supreme Court had questioned the High Court's contention two weeks ago that Chen posed a flight risk while he appeals his life sentence on wide-ranging graft charges.

After a four-hour hearing, court spokesman Wen Yao-wen said it decided to keep Chen in detention out of concern he may still flee the island if released.

"The defendant knows about ways to escape better than ordinary people," Wen said early Friday. "As he and his family own significant assets abroad, he can still afford an affluent lifestyle overseas."

News reports said Chen told the judges he was aware of several secret underground tunnels that could lead to helicopter landing pads, but only the incumbent president has access to those facilities to help him flee the island at times of emergency.

Police chief Wang Cho-chun refused on Friday to comment on the reported tunnels.

Chen also said all of the family's overseas bank accounts have been frozen and he could not use any of the money, according to the news reports.

Chen's lawyer, Chen Wen-lung, said he will refile an appeal of the detention.

Chen was convicted last month of embezzling $3.15 million during his 2000-08 presidency from a special fund, receiving bribes worth at least $9 million, and laundering some of the money through Swiss bank accounts.

He has been detained in a suburban Taipei jail since December.

Chen is the first former Taiwanese president to be put on trial. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and says he is being persecuted for his anti-China views by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, who has made improving relations with Beijing a priority.

Ma has rejected the allegation.

Chen has also argued that his detention prevented him from properly preparing his defense during his trial.