Wu Shu-Jen: Corruptor

Dec 15, 2008
*Special to asia!
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Wife of TAIWAN's disgraced former President

In six years, public opinion of Wu Shu-jen has sunk from admiration to disgust. In 2000, when Chen wrestled the presidency from the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), Wu was seen as witty, feisty and down-to-earth. Taiwan voters, particularly the women, remembered fondly how she comforted her husband in her hospital bed soon after she had been run over thrice by a farm truck in 1985. She was accompanying Chen in Tainan, south of Taiwan, to thank supporters after a failed election campaign. The driver of the farm truck, a local labourer, apologised and was not charged. Later, Chen's camp would paint him as an assassin hired by the Kuomintang who bungled the job.

Since then Wu has been confined to a wheelchair. But that only made her stronge

r. A year after her "accident", Chen was imprisoned over a dubious libel charge against the KMT. Wu took his place and campaigned successfully for a seat in parliament. When Chen was released after eight months, she took him on as a special assistant, and, after her team expired, retired from the frontline to help her husband advance his own political career.

Daughter of a doctor, Wu met Chen, a poor farmer’s son, in high school and married him when she was 22. Chen is now 55, she 53. They have a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.

Li Ao, the famous Taiwanese author and lawmaker, predicted Chen would win the 2004 presidential election against KMT’s Lien Chen because he "fights like a rascal". What he failed to mention was that it was Wu who provided Chen with a stiff backbone and the courage to carry on even when things appeared bleak.

As a young maritime lawyer, Chen was of two minds when asked to defend some activists accused of sedition and rioting. Wu chided him. "What's the point of being a lawyer if you are so scared?" she asked. The case made Chen's name and launched him into politics. Later, when Chen lost the Taipei mayoral election, it was again Wu who persuaded him against quitting.

Chen is used to deferring to his wife, especially after her accident. This made it impossible to check her excesses. As early as 1988, Wu was rumoured to have taken questionable political donations. Upon becoming First Lady, she cast restraint to the wind and went all out peddling influence for money. She also made much money trading shares on inside information—a practice that earned her an unprecedented reprimand from the government.

Things came to a head this year after Wu allegedly took bribes for helping a local tycoon to secure control of the department store Sogo. She was also accused of helping her son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, make money from insider share trading. (Chao was arrested and released on bail in July.) The scandal has sent Wu to the sickbed, weighing less than 30kg. It threatens to pull Chen down from his presidency. Wu, the woman who made Chen, could turn out to be the woman who breaks him as well.


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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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