TAIPEI, Taiwan - A Taiwan court sentenced former President Chen Shui-bian to life in prison after convicting him on graft charges Friday, a spectacular fall from grace for a man who rode to power on promises to end decades of corruption and deepen the island's de facto independence.
The conviction, which will automatically be appealed, sets the stage for a deepening conflict between the ruling Nationalist Party, which favors closer ties with China, and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which Chen helped found in 1986.
A three-judge panel declared that the former leader was guilty of wide-ranging graft offenses.
He had been charged with embezzling $3.15 million during his 2000-2008 presidency from a special presidential fund, receiving bribes worth at least $9 million in connection with a government land deal, laundering some of the money through Swiss bank accounts, and forging documents.
The court also convicted Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, of related graft offenses and sentenced her to life in prison.
The two were also fined a total of $15.2 million.
While most Taiwanese believe that Chen is guilty of at least some of the charges against him, the severity of his sentence prompted some critics to charge that he was persecuted for his pro-independence views and his central role in ending the 50-year monopoly on power of the now-resurgent Nationalists.