Thu, Apr 25, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Former navy officers deny Lafayette charges at hearing

ALLEGED KICKBACKS The six men indicted in the scandal feel the charges against them are humiliating and say they were simply trying improve the nation's defenses

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lei Hsueh-ming, former Navy vice admiral

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Six former high-ranking navy officers involved in the Lafayette frigate scandal yesterday denied the charges against them and claimed that they were simply trying to purchase the best weapons possible for the country.

The six officers appeared before the Taipei District Court (台北地方法院) yesterday for the second pre-trial hearing regarding the scandal.

Prosecutors have completed their investigation and indicted the six former navy officers on charges of forgery and corruption on July 5. The first pre-trial hearing was held on Sept. 12 last year.

It took Senior Prosecutor Chang Hsi-huai (張熙懷) approximately an hour to read the indictment against the former navy officers yesterday morning.

According to the indictment, which was based on prosecutors' evidence and interviews with the defendants and witnesses, the navy had inflated the price of the six Lafayette-class frigates purchased 11 years ago and illegally directed NT$10.8 billion to the French manufacturer, Thomson-CSF.

The six indicted former officers are former vice admiral Lei Hsueh-ming (雷學明), former vice admiral Yao Neng-chun (姚能君), former rear admiral Wang Chin-sheng (王琴生), former captain Kang Shih-chun (康世淳), former captain Hsuan Peng-lai (宣蓬萊) and former commander Cheng Chih-po (程志波).

At the hearing, Judge Liao Wen-yu (廖紋妤) read the indictment accusing the officers of violating Article 4-1 of the Statute for the Punishment of Corruption (貪汙治罪條例) and Article 213 and 216 of the Criminal Code (刑法).

Prosecutors suggested a 14-year sentence for Lei, 12 years for Yao and Kang, and 10 years for Wang and Cheng.

Prosecutors did not explain why they did not suggest any sentence for Hsuan, even though he was also indicted.

The defendants told Liao and two other judges, Liu Fang-tsu (劉芳慈) and Lee Jia-hui (李家慧), the same story. The former officers said they did not benefit the French manufacturer or accept any kickbacks, adding that they believe the charges against them are neither fair nor true.

"My colleagues and I tried our best to purchase the best ships for our country; even the Chinese government was trying to interfere and stop us," Lei said.

"Every step we took was authorized by the Navy General Headquarters and the Ministry of National Defense," he said.

"We did not make any unauthorized decisions. The prosecutors' charges were humiliating to us."

Lei indicated that Taiwan's navy had an agreement with the French manufacturer that no kickbacks were allowed.

"In that agreement, both sides agreed to abort the contract if anyone violated the agreement and the violator would be responsible for any losses," he added.

"However prosecutors did not mention this in the indictment."

The defendants' lawyers also complained to the judges that they did not have enough time to review all the details of the indictment and related legal documents since the last hearing.

Joanna Lei (雷倩), Lei Hsueh-ming's daughter, said that the defendants' lawyers and the defendants themselves needed more time to review the documents and discuss possible defenses as it is a complicated case.

"Prosecutors spent three to four months reviewing the documents before today's hearing," she said.

"However, since the indictment was submitted to the court, we [the defendants and lawyers] have not finished reviewing prosecutors' charges. We need more time. Defendants' rights should be respected."

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