Lafayette scandal’s Kuo a free man

MAXIMUM TERM::Kuo Li-heng has also been convicted of accepting US$17 million in kickbacks, but even if his appeal fails he will not have to serve another jail term

By Rich Chang  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Dec 18, 2013 - Page 1

Former navy captain Kuo Li-heng (郭力恆), a key figure in the procurement of six Lafayette-class frigates from France in 1991, was released earlier this month after serving a near 20-year prison term.

Kuo had been serving a life sentence since 1994 on separate charges of taking bribes and disclosing classified information related to a minesweeper procurement deal and the Lafayette procurement deal.

Kuo, now in his early 70s, is benefiting from a clause in the Criminal Code that limits a prison term to a maximum of 20 years, which granted him a partial commutation of his sentence.

Following an amendment to the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法) in August, which transferred the jurisdiction of all military criminal cases to the civilian judicial system during peacetime, the Ministry of Justice told a press conference yesterday that Kuo’s case was transferred to the civil judicial system in August and he was at that time moved to Taipei Prison.

Prior to his transfer to Taipei Prison, Kuo requested parole three times, but each was rejected by the military judicial system, the ministry said.

The ministry said that after Kuo was transferred to Taipei Prison, he applied to the Taiwan High Court to have his life sentence commuted, arguing that he reported to the military judicial system on his own initiative when the bribery case broke — a condition for an application for commutation of a sentence.

The ministry said the Taiwan High Court granted Kuo’s commutation request and that since he had completed 20 years in prison, the ministry released him on Dec. 3.

In May, the Taiwan High Court sentenced Kuo to 15 years in prison and deprived him of his civil rights for 10 years on corruption charges relating to the procurement of the Lafayette-class frigates. The verdict has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court said yesterday that even if Kuo is found guilty in the corruption case he would not need to serve another term, as he has already served 20 years in prison — the maximum term under the Criminal Code.

In May’s ruling, Kuo, a former official in the navy’s weapons procurement office, was convicted of accepting US$17 million in kickbacks from arms dealer Andrew Wang (汪傳浦) to facilitate the deal.

The ruling said Wang and Kuo received a total of US$340 million from the deal.

The Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said yesterday it had sent an English-language version of the Taiwan High Court’s ruling to Switzerland seeking legal mutual assistance to return the US$340 million held there to Taiwan.

Taiwanese prosecutors have concluded that as much as US$700 million in bribes may have been paid throughout the course of the Lafayette and Mirage jets procurement deals.

Wang was a Taiwanese agent for French arms supplier Thompson-CSF. He fled Taiwan 10 days after the death of navy captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓), whose body was found by local fishermen on Dec. 10, 1993, in waters off the east coast town of Suao (蘇澳), Yilan County.

Prosecutors believe that Yin was poised to blow the whistle on his colleagues who had received kickbacks from the Lafayette deal.

Wang is accused of murdering Yin and has been wanted by Taiwanese prosecutors since September 2000.

Additional reporting by CNA