Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was exonerated by the Control Yuan yesterday of involvement in the Lafayette frigate scandal. But former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) and top former military officials were accused of usurping the president's supreme authority over defense policy and of concealing from the president policy changes that they made in the process.
The findings are those of the Control Yuan's 500-plus page report into its investigation of the scandal, which was published yesterday.
The report draws no conclusions about the 1993 murder of navy Captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓), saying that the deliberate destruction of evidence by the navy and Ministry of National Defense investigative task forces has resulted in the case remaining a mystery. Speculation about the case has centered around the suspected payment of kickbacks over the frigate deal.
Hau was quick to defend himself yesterday, saying he had "nothing to hide."
The report censures the defense ministry and navy headquarters for their "sloppily taken policy decision" to purchase the Lafayette frigates and gross negligence in their investigation into the Yin murder.
The defense ministry issued a statement yesterday saying it respected the Control Yuan's findings and that after formally receiving the report it would form a team to consider improvements to its systems.
The ministry also said that it will cooperate with ongoing investigations into the Yin murder so that the crime can finally be solved and "the dignity of the military maintained."
It states that Hau, who was chief of the general staff in 1989 when the decision was made, Hsia Tien (夏甸), his vice chief of the general staff, and Yeh Chang-tung (葉昌桐), commander-in-chief of the navy, breached navy plans which were the basis of government policy by taking the decision to buy the Lafayette frigates instead of a fleet of South Korean made vessels. It says that they did so without reference to Lee. "[The three] apparently had no respect for the nation's top leader [Lee]," it says.
The report adds that Hau, Hsia and Yeh deliberately concealed the decision from Lee. Under the ROC Constitution the state president has supreme authority for defense matters and serves concurrently as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
"They [Hau, Hsia and Yeh] had decided, ... but in fact, I did not know anything," the report quotes Lee as saying during his interview with the task force.
The three were the most senior officials, apart from the president, responsible for the procurement of naval hardware.
The report says that navy headquarters, Taiwan's party to the purchase contract, had "apparently known" that the Lafayette-class frigate would not meet the armed force's needs, but, in violation of the standard procedures for military procurements, it changed its original plan and purchased the Lafayettes without the requisite budgetary approval from the Legislative Yuan.
The report confirms longstanding and widely held suspicions that commissions were paid over the deal in violation of the contract with the French arms supplier, Thomson-CSF, now called Thales, which expressly forbade such payments.
Addressing the Yin murder, the report says that the issue remains a mystery because navy and defense ministry investigative task forces "deliberately hid important evidence, misdirected the investigation, and failed in their duty to safeguard important material evidence."