Sun, Mar 09, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Lafayette frigate scandal sharpens partisan daggers

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The revived political frenzy over the Lafayette frigate scandal has served more to sharpen partisan rivalry than enlighten the public on the decade-old arms deal involving huge kickbacks to key officials in Taiwan, China and France.

The unsolved murder in 1993 of former navy captain Ying Ching-feng (尹清楓) is also believed to have stemmed from the scam.

Over the past week, the DPP has demanded PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) explain his role in the nation's purchase of six French-made Lafayette-class frigates in the early 1990s.

DPP officials insisted that Soong, who worked as KMT secretary-general between 1989 and 1993, might have distributed the US$400 million in kickbacks that French foreign minister Roland Dumas alleges was paid to the ruling party at the time.

The allegations made in a recent interview have jolted political circles.

Soong has denied any involvement and said that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), whose approval was needed for all weapons deals during his time as head of state, should give a detailed account of his role.

The PFP chair also accused President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of failing to live up to his pledge that his administration would spare no effort to uncover the truth.

Meanwhile, self-syled military analysts have appeared on TV talk shows making unsubstantiated revelations implicating former and current officials along the blue-green divide.

Hoping to help sort out the mess, the legislative Judiciary Committee has invited chiefs from the ministries of justice, foreign affairs, national defense and finance to a meeting tomorrow.

TSU Legislator Su Ying-kwei (蘇盈貴), a convener of the committee, said he hoped justice officials would inform the committee of progress on the probe, which critics say has become inactive due to missing documents.

Others say the inactivity has more to do with government concerns about potential political and military fallout.

The meeting is bound to draw intense media attention, though committee members say they do not expect it to add much that was new.

DPP legislative whip Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), one of the panelists on the committee, said that ministers not under the oversight of the committee would probably stay away from the event.

The Judiciary Committee is responsible for overseeing the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Yuan.

On the invitation list is Minister of Foreign Ministry Eugene Chien (簡又新), whose ties with fugitive arms dealer Andrew Wang (汪傳浦) have been called into question by opposition lawmakers.

Former Ministry of Finance officials are also suspected of having played a role in the arms deal in an attempt to woo French support for Taiwan's entry to the WTO.

The two ministries will probably send deputy heads to the committee meeting, Chen Chi-mai said.

"No matter who shows up, it is unlikely the committee can learn of any breakthrough,"he said.

PFP legislative leader Chiu-yi (邱毅) shared Chen's doubts.

"More likely than not, the Lafayette uproar will turn out to be little more than another bout of blue-green feuding," Chiu said.

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