Taiwan prosecutors clear DPP presidential candidate

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TAIPEI, Sep 21 (Reuters) Taiwan prosecutors today cleared the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate for the 2008 presidential election of allegations he misused funds when he was mayor of the island's second biggest city.

In addition to absolving Frank Hsieh, the prosecutor also cleared his running mate, Su Tseng-chang, of similar allegations, citing insufficient evidence in both cases.

Indictment of either man could have thrown the DPP's campaign for the presidential race, set for next March, into disarray. The party's popularity has waned in the past year amid a series of scandals surrounding President Chen Shui-bian and his family.

''This result is not unexpected,'' said Hsieh spokesman Chao Tien-lin. ''All of the money was used for legitimate purposes.'' But the prosecutor said it was indicting Vice President Annette Lu, DPP Chairman You Si-kun and former presidential office secretary-general Mark Chen.

A spokesman for You said all of the assets in his case were used for public business. ''This is not graft,'' he said.

The prosecutor said that Lu, You and members of their staff were suspected of misusing 170,000 dollars and T TAIPEI, Sep 21 (Reuters) Taiwan prosecutors today cleared the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate for the 2008 presidential election of allegations he misused funds when he was mayor of the island's second biggest city.

In addition to absolving Frank Hsieh, the prosecutor also cleared his running mate, Su Tseng-chang, of similar allegations, citing insufficient evidence in both cases.

Indictment of either man could have thrown the DPP's campaign for the presidential race, set for next March, into disarray. The party's popularity has waned in the past year amid a series of scandals surrounding President Chen Shui-bian and his family.

''This result is not unexpected,'' said Hsieh spokesman Chao Tien-lin. ''All of the money was used for legitimate purposes.'' But the prosecutor said it was indicting Vice President Annette Lu, DPP Chairman You Si-kun and former presidential office secretary-general Mark Chen.

A spokesman for You said all of the assets in his case were used for public business. ''This is not graft,'' he said.

The prosecutor said that Lu, You and members of their staff were suspected of misusing 170,000 dollars and T$2.4 million, respectively, during their time in office.

The Supreme Court prosecutor's office said in June it had interviewed 52 witnesses and checked 6,000 documents as part of a probe of special funds.

Taiwan prosecutors, under pressure to root out corruption, have taken on a series of public figures over the past two years.

A media officer for Hsieh's campaign team said last week that the presidential candidate -- a former premier and one-time mayor of the southern port city of Kaohsiung - had done nothing wrong.

Hsieh is in a tight race for the presidency with Ma Ying-jeou, former chairman of the opposition Nationalist Party or KMT.

Ma himself was charged with corruption in February after Hsieh's party recommended a probe, but was cleared of the charges last month. The KMT is looking to Ma as its best shot at regaining the presidency, which the party lost for the first time in 2000 after ruling Taiwan since 1949.

The KMT is more pro-China than the DPP, which tilts towards independence. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened war if it embraces formal independence.

Last year prosecutors charged first lady Wu Shu-chen and several presidential aides with corruption linked to their use of the presidential office's state affairs fund.

Chen Shui-bian, who was elected in 2000 and 2004, is also expected to be charged when he steps down in May 2008.

REUTERS ARS RN1759 .4 million, respectively, during their time in office.

The Supreme Court prosecutor's office said in June it had interviewed 52 witnesses and checked 6,000 documents as part of a probe of special funds.

Taiwan prosecutors, under pressure to root out corruption, have taken on a series of public figures over the past two years.

A media officer for Hsieh's campaign team said last week that the presidential candidate -- a former premier and one-time mayor of the southern port city of Kaohsiung - had done nothing wrong.

Hsieh is in a tight race for the presidency with Ma Ying-jeou, former chairman of the opposition Nationalist Party or KMT.

Ma himself was charged with corruption in February after Hsieh's party recommended a probe, but was cleared of the charges last month. The KMT is looking to Ma as its best shot at regaining the presidency, which the party lost for the first time in 2000 after ruling Taiwan since 1949.

The KMT is more pro-China than the DPP, which tilts towards independence. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened war if it embraces formal independence.

Last year prosecutors charged first lady Wu Shu-chen and several presidential aides with corruption linked to their use of the presidential office's state affairs fund.

Chen Shui-bian, who was elected in 2000 and 2004, is also expected to be charged when he steps down in May 2008.

REUTERS ARS RN1759

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