French prosecutors said yesterday that they had called for the Lafayette case, France’s biggest graft probe in 50 years, to be dismissed without trial after repeatedly being refused defense files on a 1991 warships deal with Taiwan.
The office of state prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin confirmed a report in Le Figaro newspaper saying he had requested the multibillion-dollar case to be dismissed for lack of evidence.
French judges wrapped up a five-year investigation in 2006 into alleged kickbacks paid on the sidelines of the deal, but were repeatedly denied access by the government to top-secret defense files at the heart of the case.
Writing to judges Renaud Van Ruymbeke and Xaviere Simeoni on July 24, the prosecutor said that the probe had not “brought to light the existence of retro-commissions” paid on the sidelines of the sale of six Lafayette-class frigates, according to Le Figaro.
The prosecutors said the probe had also “not enabled the beneficiaries to be identified.”
Taiwan has said as much as US$400 million might have been paid in bribes for the warships built by French defense company Thomson-CSF (now Thales).
Allegations of backhanders emerged after the body of the officer who ran the Taiwanese navy’s arms acquisitions office was found off the east coast in 1993.
Further suspicions arose when Swiss courts discovered US$520 million in accounts held by businessman Andrew Wang (汪傳浦), the main suspect in the case, who was allegedly tasked with convincing Taiwan to buy the ships and renege on a nearly clinched deal with South Korea’s Hyundai.
Taiwan is seeking damages of close to 1 billion euros (US$1.54 billion) from France before an international court of arbitration.