Fri, Oct 07, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A small step forward for justice

The decision of Switzerland's supreme court to release documents relating to the Lafayette-class frigate scandal is a minor victory for investigators looking into the 12-year-old case, which has been stymied because of a lack of evidence and witnesses.

It is also a victory for Taiwan in foreign relations, as it is another example of how creative thinking and a pragmatic approach can overcome the debilitating effect of the lack of diplomatic ties with most countries.

Most importantly, it offers a glimmer of hope -- however slight -- that the truth behind the murder of navy Captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓) may yet be uncovered, and the perpetrators of that act of evil be brought to justice.

It has been nearly a dozen years since Yin's body was found floating off Suao on Dec. 10, 1993. He disappeared two days after making secret recordings of conversations with three people believed to have taken -- and who helped to distribute -- millions of dollars in bribes to facilitate procurement of the ships from French firm Thomson-CSF (now called Thales).

Since that time, only a handful of marginal figures in the case have been charged with any crime, and even fewer have been sent to jail. This is despite the admission by former French foreign minister Roland Dumas that key figures in the ruling party at the time -- the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) -- received kickbacks to facilitate the deal. Senior politicians, including former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), have been accused of possible involvement in the scandal, but their roles have never been satisfactorily examined.

The lack of progress in the Lafayette frigate scandal has left an indelible stain on the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Justice. The allegations of widespread corruption, the appearance of a cover-up and the suspected murders of both French and Taiwanese officials in connection with the case are details more suitable for a dimestore novel than an arms-procurement deal.

More sadly, the case is one more example of the culture of graft that exists among local bureaucrats and politicians. Hardly a month passes in which some senior official -- from the pan-blue or the pan-green camp -- is not charged with involvement in some bribery scandal. The furor surrounding the Kaohsiung MRT is only the most prominent recent example.

On the brighter side, the investigation into the Lafayette scandal has given the public the opportunity to witness the often pedestrian cooperation between Taiwanese law enforcement agencies and their overseas counterparts. Even NASA took part in the probe, helping to piece together one of the recordings made by Yin before his death, which had been "mysteriously" erased while in the possession of military prosecutors.

In any event, finding the origin and tracing the movements of the more than US$500 million frozen in 46 Swiss bank accounts belonging to fugitive arms dealer Andrew Wang (汪傳浦), one of the key suspects in Yin's murder, is the next priority for investigators.

Yin's killer -- or killers -- have managed to elude justice until now, but the dogged persistence of officials and diplomats may yet crack this case.

These efforts should be applauded, and their importance acknowledged. For until the culture of corruption and the "black gold" practices of the KMT are brought to heel, Taiwan's miraculous democratization will all be for nought.

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