Fri, Jun 15, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Lafayette scandal funds returned to Taiwan

FRIGATE FRACAS Swiss authorities released some of the frozen funds on condition that the prosecution of those concerned would comply with human rights principles

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

Swiss authorities on Wednesday returned US$34 million in frozen bank deposits to Taiwan that were believed to be kickbacks connected to the purchase of six Lafayette-class frigates from France in 1991, Swiss officials said.

Officials at the Swiss Department of Justice said the funds belonged to two different account holders but declined to identify them, saying only that one of them was a Taiwanese official.

The officials said that according to Switzerland's Federal Act on International Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, frozen capital assets can be released to foreign governments if they are related to criminal activities.

The funds were handed over to Taiwanese officials on the condition that legal proceedings against the two people concerned would comply with human rights principles, they said.

The sum is part of a total of US$520 million that Taiwan has sought to recover from a number of frozen Swiss bank accounts belonging to several Taiwanese involved in the scandal, including fugitive arms dealer Andrew Wang (汪傳浦) and members of his family, as well as former naval officer Kuo Li-heng (郭力恆) and his brother Kuo Wen-tien (郭問天).

Proceedings for the retrieval of the remaining funds are ongoing, the officials said.

Kickbacks

Wang was a Taiwanese agent for French arms supplier Thompson-CSF. He fled the country following the death of Navy Captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓) under suspicious circumstances in late 1993. It is believed that Yin was poised to blow the whistle on colleagues who had received kickbacks from the Lafayette deal.

Wang has been wanted by Taiwanese prosecutors on a murder charge since September 2000.

Concluding a second-phase investigation into the arms procurement scandal in September last year, a special judicial panel in Taiwan indicted Wang and his wife, Yeh Hsiu-chen (葉秀貞), as well as their four children and the Kuo brothers on charges of collecting kickbacks from the Lafayette deal.

According to the indictment, the Wangs opened more than 60 bank accounts in Europe and Asia to launder US$520 million in illicit gains from the deal.

Taiwan began to seek assistance from the Swiss government in 2001 to retrieve funds frozen in several Swiss banks.

Through a judicial aid agreement with Switzerland, Taiwanese prosecutors acquired a collection of bank files from a Swiss federal judge in November 2005. After nearly 10 months of examination of the files, Taiwan petitioned in September last year for the return of US$520 million from a total of US$730 million frozen in the Swiss banks.

Additional reporting by AP

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