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Sat, Feb 03, 2001 - Page 4 News List

French judges reject navy bid to join frigate lawsuit

CORRUPTION TRIAL In a grave setback to its own investigation, the navy was told by a French court on Thursday that it cannot become party to the legal case involving the sale of French-made frigates to Taiwan


Taiwan's navy cannot become party to a legal case involving the 1991 sale of French-made warships to the country, two French judges ruled on Thursday.

Rear-Admiral Gong Chia Cheng (龔家政) had asked the French authorities to allow the navy to be a civil plaintiff in the case.

The refusal effectively blocks Taiwan from having access to all the documents involved in the transaction, which is being investigated by judges Eva Joly and Laurence Vichnievsky for evidence of attempted fraud.

The maker of the six frigates, the Thomson group (now renamed Thales), lodged the fraud complaint in 1997.

The French government in 1991 overcame initial reluctance to sell six frigates to Taiwan.

Six people have been implicated in the frigates case, including one-time French foreign minister Roland Dumas, his ex-mistress Christine Deviers-Joncour and the former head of the Elf oil company Loik Le Floch Prigent.

Those suspects are also implicated in a separate, but linked, trial that opened this week in Paris.

In that case, prosecutors are trying to prove Elf used Deviers-Joncour to illegally lobby Dumas, then foreign minister, to push the frigates sale through.

Meanwhile, a Taiwan lawyer said yesterday there are other legal options to protect the navy's interests.

David Su (宿文堂), a lawyer for the firm which handled legal affairs for the navy in the 1991 purchase, said he preferred to reserve his comments on reports that a French court had denied the navy's request to observe the civil suit, until he had seen a copy of the ruling itself.

However, Su said, there are always legal means to protect the navy's rights in the case.

Su said two French attorneys retained by his law firm for the navy will recommend the next step to take in the case.

The navy, dogged by allegations that huge kickbacks were paid in order to secure the deal, has tried to take part in the suit lodged by Thomson-CSF against several French politicians, in an attempt to access court documents which might help the Taiwan authorities' investigation into the kickback allegations.

Under the contract, the shipbuilder is required to refund the purchaser if the sale price was inflated to include "commissions."

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