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Taiwan’s former president, Mr. Chen Shui-bian, was indicted on corruption charges last week. This is a shocking development in the career of a man who campaigned on a pledge to clean up Taiwan’s politics. In the supercharged atmosphere of Taiwan politics, all sides will be tempted to intervene in or influence the legal process. That cannot occur. This trial must be transparent and free from any taint of politics. Taiwan’s future may depend on it.

Mr. Chen was the first opposition politician to win the presidency of Taiwan. His commitment to independence and carving out greater international space for the island — which the Chinese government in Beijing considered a renegade province — created considerable tensions in cross-Strait relations and with Taipei’s close friend and protector, the United States.

Mr. Chen’s appeal was twofold: Besides pledging to raise Taiwan’s international profile, he vowed to end the corruption that dogged Taiwan politics. Yet, prosecutors have concluded that he, along with other family members and friends, embezzled millions of dollars in campaign funds and received millions more in bribes. Twelve people, including his wife, son and daughter-in-law, have been charged in the scandal.

Mr. Chen denies the charges — which could bring a life sentence — and will fight them in court. He asserts that the prosecution is politically motivated by his successor, Mr. Ma Ying-jeou, and his party. Both deny the accusation and, it must be noted, the investigation began while Mr. Chen was in office.

The case has inflamed Taiwan’s already caustic politics. Mr. Chen’s supporters have taken to the streets to proclaim his innocence. After his election, Mr. Ma said he wanted to reach out to the 42 percent of Taiwanese who did not vote for him. That will be impossible if Mr. Chen’s trial is seen as a political tool. The judiciary must not become a device for political retribution or revenge, or Taiwan’s democracy could be undermined. Much rides on the trial of Mr. Chen: It must be flawless.

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