Fri, Jul 06, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Nine former navy officers are indicted

CORRUPTION Taipei prosecutors have named former officers who face charges for irregularities surrounding the purchase of French and German naval hardware

By Jou Ying-cheng  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

After nearly a year of investigation, prosecutors yesterday handed down indictments against nine former naval officers over the high-profile scandals surrounding the purchases of French Lafayette frigates and German-made minesweeper components.

Of the nine men indicted, six were for the Lafayette case and three were for the minesweeper components case.

Prosecutors said the navy had inflated the prices of the six Lafayette frigates and illegally benefited the French manufacturer Thomson-CSF the sum of 2.4 billion francs, or NT$10.8 billion.

Of the nine indicted former naval officers, the highest-ranking was the former naval commander-in-chief, Admiral Yeh Chang-tung (葉昌桐). The prosecutors said Yeh covered up for his subordinates' crimes in the case involving the purchase of components for minesweepers.

Former vice admiral Lei Hsueh-ming (雷學明) was indicted with the prosecutors' recommendation to the court that he be sentenced to 14 years -- the harshest request in these two cases.

The two cases represent part of a complicated series of arms purchase mysteries believed to be linked to the 1993 murder of navy captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓).

But concerning the Lafayette case, the prosecutors in the indictment did not present evidence showing the accused had taken any kickbacks, triggering questions that the indictments were made improperly.

"[Prosecutors] should let the evidence speak for itself. The prosecutors don't have any evidence that I can see," Lei Hsueh-ming said yesterday, adding that he was amazed by the actions taken.

"The prosecutors, who have been investigating the flow of money [in the case] never found any improper monetary transactions between these [indicted] people," said Joanna Lei (雷倩), the daughter of former vice admiral Lei.

State Public Prosecutor General Lu Jen-fa (盧仁發), however, said the indicted naval officers had provided the French side excess profits. "As for whether there were kickbacks and commissions, we are still investigating," Lu said.

But former captain Kang Shih-chun (康世淳) indicted in the Lafayette scandal called the indictment "entirely political" in nature.

"[The prosecutors] are just doing whatever they can to appease the president in the wake of his demand that the `investigation should be carried out even if it shakes the nation to its very foundation,'" Kang said.

Joanna Lei also said that rumors were circulating among the special investigation force that the indictments were hastily handed down because the prosecutors had been ordered to close the case within a year.

Under direct order from President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Aug. 1 last year, a special investigation task force looking into Yin's murder and surrounding arms purchase cases was established, with Lu as its convener.

Taiwan changed its original plan of buying frigates from South Korea to sourcing them from France in 1989.

According to the prosecutors, Lei Hsuen-ming and other officials in charge produced false performance data on Lafayette frigates and inflated the price, knowing that the frigates did not meet requirements and disregarding orders by their superiors to knock down the price.

As for the minesweeper case, the indictment said that former navy commander Yuan Yu-fan (袁友范) had embezzled more than NT$10 million in interest that the fund for the purchase had accrued. It said Yen Chang-tung had learned of Yuan's offense but failed to take the proper action of sending him to military prosecutors.

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