Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: Getting payback for payoffs

Joel Ducher, former Taiwan branch manager of the French bank Societe Generale, testified this week at the Paris trial of former foreign minister Roland Dumas that FF2.5 billion ($114 trillion at current exchange rates) was used for illegal commissions in the FF16 billion sale of six Lafayette frigates to Taiwan. Of this, Ducher said, FF800 million was paid to politicians and military officers in Taiwan, while the remaining FF1.7 billion flowed back to France. One-sixth of an arms sale whose contract clearly prohibits commissions was used for exactly that purpose. The vastness and complexity of the irregularities surrounding the sale can't be more obvious.

According to Ducher, the frigates were worth FF1.06 billion each -- which would set the price of the six vessels at FF6.3 billion. However, the initial price agreed between France and Taiwan was FF11 billion -- almost twice as expensive. The deal was later pumped up to FF16 billion -- both by the kickbacks and an agreement to have the ships' hulls built entirely in France. Ducher called the frigate sale a "fraud at the national level," saying the French government had allowed massive kickbacks for a transaction that clearly prohibited commissions.

His testimony has also put the sad story of Taiwan's military procurements under the international spotlight. Though known worldwide for its economic miracle and democratic reforms, Taiwan has been largely isolated by its sensitive relations with China. Beijing has tried to foil Taiwan's every attempt to buy the weapons it needs to defend itself. As a result, Taiwan not only faces great difficulty in finding weapons, but also ends up paying inordinately high prices, becoming easy prey for arms dealers.

As a free and democratic country, Taiwan has a right to the same survival space and dignity as any other democratic nation. Taiwan's military procurements are actions no less reasonable than those of any other nation. An arms-manufacturing country may like to describe weapons sales to Taiwan as a favor, but McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of F-16 fighter jets, might very well be undergoing major personnel layoffs today if not for its F-16 sales to Taiwan. If not for Taiwan's purchase of Lafayette frigates, Mirage-2000 fighters and missiles, the French shipbuilder Lorient might be facing closure while Dassault and Matra might be facing major layoffs. In other words, Taiwan's military purchases are mutually beneficial transactions that should not be subjected to unreasonable treatment.

The strategic balance in the western Pacific will undergo a drastic change if China gobbles up Taiwan. This is certainly not a scenario that the international community wants to see. In this sense, Taiwan's military purchases are also compatible with the interests of the global village. Countries like the US and France should not simply sit back and watch while Taiwan's military capabilities shrink -- much less take advantage of Taiwan's back-to-the wall position to jack up their prices to exorbitant levels.

For its part, Taiwan also needs to clean up its act. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) promised to leave no stone unturned in investigating the murder of navy Captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓), even if it "shakes the very foundations of the nation." The government should work to make good on this promise, hunting down the military-political connections behind the Lafayette scandal and meting out severe punishments.

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