Ex-Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou indicted over secrets leak

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 8, 2015, file photo, Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks to foreign media during a press conference in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan's China-friendly ex-president Ma Ying-jeou has been indicted over the leaking of classified information involving suspected influence peddling by a powerful opposition lawmaker. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Prosecutors in Taiwan on Tuesday indicted the island's China-friendly ex-President Ma Ying-jeou over the leaking of classified information involving suspected influence peddling by a powerful opposition lawmaker.

The Taipei District Public Prosecutor's Office found after a six-month probe that Ma broke laws on the protection of personal information, release of secrets and communications security and surveillance, office spokesman Chang Chieh-chin said.

Ma has denied the charges.

A U.S.-educated legal scholar, Ma, 66, was credited with substantially improving Taiwan's relations with rival China during his two terms in office from 2008 to 2016. However, his push for ever-closer ties sparked a backlash, especially among young Taiwanese wary of China's intentions toward the island it considers its own territory to be brought under control by force if necessary.

That led to his Nationalist Party losing both the presidency and its parliamentary majority to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in polls in January 2016.

The DPP has sought to maintain ties with the mainland while asserting the self-governing island's own place in international society.

China responded by cutting off contacts with Taiwan's government in June in protest at new President Tsai Ing-wen's refusal to acknowledge its claim that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

China and Taiwan, a former Japanese colony, split amid civil war in 1949.

The charges against Ma stem from a 2013 lawsuit brought by DPP lawmaker Ker Chien-ming. Ker accused the then-president of leaking information taken from a wiretapped conversation in which powerful Nationalist lawmaker Wang Jin-pyng pressed judicial officials to acquit Ker in a separate case.

Wang at the time was speaker of the legislature and Ma's main political rival within the party.

The charges against Ma carry a maximum sentence of three years each.

Ma was barred in June from visiting Hong Kong under a state secrecy law restricting travel by former top officials for three years after leaving office.

Ma spokesperson Hsu Chao-hsin said the former president's denial of the accusations was rejected by prosecutors.

"There's no way he should have been charged," Hsu said. "Where is the justice?"

Following the indictment, Ma told reporters in Taipei that passing on the information about suspected influence peddling taken from the wiretap was not a criminal act.

"This was mainly about handling a crisis," Ma said. "I'm confident in my innocence."

Ma's case will stir emotions in Taiwan, where public opinion about his performance in office remains divided, said Raymond Wu, managing director of Taipei-based political risk consultancy e-telligence.

"Unfortunately, this is going to be another one of those cases where those who believe in Ma will believe that he's innocent, and people who don't believe in Ma will of course think he's guilty as charged," Wu said.

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