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Closing in on the Lafayette scandal

A trip to france by Hsieh Tsung-min, a national policy advisor to the president, has shed more light on the Lafayette frigate scandal and the murder of navy Captain Yin Ching-feng. Hsieh's trip has also revealed more clues suggesting the involvement of French arms dealer Jean-Claude Albessard. Dennis Engbarth spoke with Hsieh yesterday for the `Taipei Times,' asking him about his recent fact-finding mission and the importance of cracking the case

By Dennis Engbarth  / 

Presidential advisor Hsieh Tsung-min, left, and State Prosecutor-General Lu Ren-fa yesterday answer legislators' questions on the investigation into the Lafayette frigate scandal and the murder of navy Captain Yin Ching-feng.


Taipei Times: Why did you become interested in the Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓) case?

Hsieh Tsung-min (謝聰敏): In 1993, Legislator Shen Chih-hui (沈智慧) from the Legislative Yuan's National Defense Committee, and myself toured the shipyard where the Lafayette frigates were being built and participated in the christening of one of the ships.

During this visit, the navy assigned two officers to accompany us -- Captain Yin Ching-feng and Captain Kuo Li-heng (郭立恆). Captain Yin was very amiable and explained many things about the ships to us. But when he was inspecting the shipyard, he took many notes, an action which displeased the French master of the shipyard.

After we returned, Yin remained very friendly with me and Shen and arranged for us to meet with Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Chuang Ming-yao (莊明耀), and left a very good impression with me. Of these two officers, one was murdered and another has been jailed, and as an elected representative of the people, I feel a deep sense of responsibility toward them.

TT: How has your understanding of the Yin case changed over the years, especially since it has remained unsolved for so long?

Hsieh: Initially, I thought that the Green Gang (青幫) [an organized crime group with extensive military connections] in the military had killed Yin, but investigators later told me that they believed the Green Gang was not involved.

Later, I came to believe that the case was more likely linked to the French electronics firm Thomson-CSF after investigators discovered that Thomson Taiwan's representative office general manager Andrew Wang Chuan-pu (汪傳浦) and Thomson Japan's general manager Jean-Claude Albessard had left Taiwan shortly after Yin's murder on Dec. 8, 1993.

Chronology of main events in the Lafayette case:

* 1988: The French electronics company Thomson-CSF and the French Navy propose selling six Lafayette-class frigates to Taiwan

* 1989: The plan is officially approved by the French government but is suddenly postponed by then president Francois Mitterrand under pressure from Beijing

* 1990: Thompson-CSF gives a huge commission to Chinese and Taiwanese officials through Alfred Sirven, international affairs manager of the French oil giant Elf, and some other secret channels. The company also hires Christine Deviers-Joncour, ex-mistress of former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, to lobby Dumas for the sale

* 1991: Both Beijing and Dumas finally say "yes" to the deal. Thompson-CSF then signs a FF16 billion (NT$65 billion) contract with Taiwan's General Headquarters of the Navy

* 1992: Elf sues Thompson-CSF, asking the warship builder to pay 1 percent of the commission, in accordance with their secret contract

* 1993: The body of Taiwan navy Captain Yin Ching-feng (尹清楓), who was opposed to the deal, is found in Ilan (宜蘭). Yin was reportedly murdered to prevent him from revealing kickbacks paid to Taiwan to facilitate the sale of the frigates

* 1994: The secret investigation of Elf's case starts in France

* 1996: The first frigate is handed over to Taiwan

* 1997: Thompson-CSF sues Elf for deceit. Witnesses testified at court, proving that the commission was paid to lobby for the sale. The French government, however, is not willing to start an investigation

* 2000: A special investigation team in Taiwan is established in August to re-investigate the sale. Later, Dumas says during a TV interview in France that the total commission might have been as high as FF5 billion, almost one-third of the entire deal. On Oct. 25, the Taiwanese government sues Thompson-CSF for breach of contract

Source: TT

The special investigative committee has already issued a warrant for the arrest of Andrew Wang on suspicion of murder.

My interest in this aspect of the case was sparked by a report in the Oct. 8 issue of the China Times Weekly, which stated that Yin was murdered at a villa in Chih-shan (至善), where Wang lives. The report said that three military officers held Yin while Albessard beat him up and, perhaps unintentionally, beat him to death.

While I cannot be certain about the accuracy of this report, which was supposedly based on information from the special investigation group, I have heard many stories, including that Albessard died in March.

I wanted to understand the whole picture, so I went to Paris last week. We need to listen to all sides of the story, and especially the French side, which we do not often encounter here. So my purpose was to meet people directly related to the case and reporters in France who were covering the case.

TT: The most important people you met were undoubtedly former foreign minster and former president of France's Constitutional Council Roland Dumas and his mistress, Christine Deviers-Joncour.

Hsieh: I found both Dumas and Joncour to be very charming and discussed many aspects of the case, including Dumas' own trial, with them and later with Joncour's lawyer. Dumas related that he had been opposed to the sale on the grounds of France's own national interest, since he believed that China would explode in anger if France sold 12 Lafayettes to Taiwan.

But although he opposed the sale he was the only member of his Cabinet not to visit Taiwan later. Only Dumas has been indicted in relation to the scandal and he feels this is very unfair.

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