Taiwan Presidential Candidate cleared of graft

Taiwan Presidential Candidate Ma Ying-jeou, was cleared by a Taipei District Court today of fraud charges that could have derailed his campaign for the March 2008 election.

"(Today) my supporters finally heard justice," Ma told a crowded news conference in his lawyer's office after the verdict was announced. "In the future I will continue to fight for Taiwanese values of honesty."

Ma, 57, of the Nationalist Party, was indicted earlier this year on charges he diverted $333,000 of public money into his private account while serving as mayor of Taipei between 1998 and 2006, San Jose Mercury News reports.

Taiwanese politicians have long treated such allowances as practically indistinguishable from their salaries, but prosecutors have been investigating this practice over the past year and bringing indictments.

Mr. Ma, a Harvard-educated lawyer from an extremely wealthy family, responded that he had given $2 million to charity during his tenure as mayor and that the allowance was part of his compensation.

Mr. Ma is in a close race with Frank Hsieh, the candidate of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, in presidential elections to be held next March, New York Times informs.

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