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Taiwan’s Jailed Ex-Leader Attempts Suicide With Towel in Protest

Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian
Former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian, center, leaves the altar after paying respect to his mother-in-law at a Taoist prayer service in southern Tainan on Jan. 6, 2012. Photographer: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian tried to kill himself in a prison hospital to protest his 2009 corruption conviction, for which he’s serving a 20-year jail sentence.

Chen, 62, tried to hang himself with three towels tied together at a faucet of a bathroom sink at 9 p.m. on June 2, Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang said in a phone interview yesterday. The former president was stopped by guards and his condition is stable, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

After serving as president from 2000-2008, Chen and his wife were sentenced in 2009 to life in prison for misuse of public funds and other charges including corruption and inducing false evidence. The punishment was reduced on appeal and Chen was moved to the prison hospital in April to treat ailments including depression, a sleep disorder and Parkinson’s disease, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

Chen’s 2000 election ended more than half a century of rule by the Kuomintang, which subsequently regained power as his Democratic Progressive Party was tarnished by the corruption allegations.

During his tenure, Chen earned China’s wrath by trying to assert the island’s sovereignty, dropping the word “China” from the names of state-owned companies and bidding to join the United Nations under the name of Taiwan. His successor, Ma Ying-jeou, reversed those moves, allowing direct flights and easing restrictions on mainland investment.

Money Laundering

In 2009, Chen and his family was charged with accepting bribes to facilitate two property deals and laundering the funds overseas. Prosecutors said more than $30 million was remitted abroad, ending up in Swiss bank accounts.

The suicide attempt happened in a part of Chen’s bathroom not visible to surveillance cameras, and the equipment has since been adjusted, the ministry said.

In a statement yesterday, the former president’s office said he was trying to “build diplomacy” for Taiwan with the money he was convicted of embezzling.

Chen has applied to be reinstated as a member of the Democratic Progressive Party. The application isn’t progressing smoothly, according to the justice ministry’s statement. Party spokesman Jason Lin said Chen’s application for reinstatement is under review and there’s no time-line for approval.

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