Chen Shui-bian, once an anticorruption crusader, was detained Tuesday on charges that he embezzled millions of dollars in public funds.
Taiwan TV showed Mr. Chen being led in handcuffs from a prosecutor's office to a courthouse-bound car, as police lined the streets. He raised his cuffed hands before getting into the car, yelling "Political persecution!" and "Go Taiwan!"
Late Tuesday night he was taken to a hospital and reportedly claimed to have been injured by police while in custody.
The detention of the defiant nationalist comes amid a warming trend in cross-strait relations under the current, China-friendly president Ma Ying-jeou. Last week China and Taiwan signed another raft of economic agreements during a visit by a top Chinese negotiator, though the visit was marred by violent anti-China protests here.
While Chen has not been charged with any crime, he is suspected of embezzling millions in public funds while he was president, and laundering that money by wiring it to foreign bank accounts. Two of his key aides and others have been detained without charge in the case, and his wife is also a suspect.
The ex-president has admitted that his wife wired $20 million to foreign bank accounts, but denies any wrongdoing. He claimed in an August press conference that the money was leftover campaign donations, that he didn't know about his wife's massive wire transfers until early this year, and that when he learned of the transfers he decided to donate all the money to further Taiwan's diplomacy.
That public defense does not sit well with many Taiwanese, even many former supporters in his own party.
"He's intentionally distorting and twisting everything, trying desperately to get support from some diehards at the expense of the DPP [the pro-independence party]," says Antonio Chiang, former head of the National Security Council in Chen's government. "He's destroyed the value of democracy and the significance of the Taiwan independence movement, and destroyed the dream of Taiwan for Taiwanese."