TAIPEI (AFP) – A Taiwanese court Friday found former president Ma Ying-jeou not guilty in a political leaks case, his second acquittal in a raft of lawsuits brought against him since he stepped down last year.
Ma was cleared of charges of leaking secrets and instructing a top prosecutor to disclose confidential information about a judicial probe in 2013.
“Defendant Ma Ying-jeou is found not guilty” of violating the communication security and surveillance act as well as the personal information protection act, said Taipei district court judge Tang Yueh.
Ma was not present when the verdict was announced. He had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and accused the prosecution of basing their case on flimsy evidence and speculation.
He expressed gratitude and relief at the verdict, saying that he hoped “future ex-presidents would not have to face all kinds of meaningless hassles”, according to a statement issued by his office.
Friday’s case was filed by Taipei prosecutors acting on behalf of the government, who charged Ma with leaking secrets to then premier Jiang Yi-huah and an aide about the 2013 judicial probe.
They also accused him of instructing the then prosecutor-general to disclose confidential information to Jiang.
The charges were punishable by a maximum three-year jail term.
Prosecutors said they would decide whether to appeal the ruling or not.
In March, Ma was cleared by the Taipei district court of leaking secrets and defamation in a separate lawsuit filed by a lawmaker also in connection with the 2013 judicial probe.
The probe was looking into whether the parliamentary speaker at the time — a political rival of Ma — had improperly influenced a court case against the lawmaker.
While still in office Ma was protected by political immunity.
But since he stepped down as leader in May last year the 67-year-old has been hit with a string of corruption and other allegations.
Ma’s Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party held power from 2008 to 2016, before it was trounced by Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The leaks controversy sparked a political storm in 2013 and saw two top officials resign, while thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand Ma step down.
The DPP, then in opposition, compared the probe to the Watergate scandal in the United States, as information allegedly implicating the parliamentary speaker was obtained by a wiretap on a lawmaker’s phone.
Ma was the third ex-president in Taiwan to be indicted on criminal charges.
Ma’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian was serving a 20-year sentence for corruption when he was freed on medical parole in 2015.
Lee Teng-hui was charged with embezzling state funds during his 1988-2000 presidency, but was acquitted.