Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Panel to sue for Lafayette funds

KICKBACKS A special panel probing the purchase of six warships from France plans to file a suit aimed at winning back money from those who took kickbacks in the deal

CNA , TAIPEI

The government is ready to file a lawsuit for the return of a huge slush fund frozen in Swiss banks that is believed to be made up of illegal kickbacks from an arms procurement deal with France in the early 1990s, judicial authorities said yesterday.

State Public Prosecutor-General Wu Ying-chao (吳英昭) said that a special prosecutorial panel investigating the high-profile kickback scandal involving the purchase of six Lafayette-class frigates from France in 1991 has authored a 70-page report on the kickback refund lawsuit.

"The report clearly lists the individuals who will be asked for a refund, the amount of kickbacks each of them has to refund and the offenses each has committed, as well as other related matters," Wu said.

According to Wu, fugitive murder suspect Andrew Wang (汪傳浦), the agent in Taiwan for Thomson-CSF (now known as Thales), the French company that sold the frigates, is not the only target to be asked to refund the illegal kickbacks. Nevertheless, he would not reveal the identity of any other defendants or the amount of the refunds sought.

"The special panel is still put-ting the final touches on the paperwork," Wu said.

Swiss lawyers

A spokesman for the special investigation panel said that as the refund suit must follow Switzerland's civil-suit procedures, the report was sent last month to Swiss lawyers retained by the government to handle the lawsuit.

"The Swiss lawyers ... suggested that we prepare some additional information and data. We have thus added seven more pages to the report and are studying follow-up procedural issues with the Swiss lawyers," the spokesman said.

A French lawsuit will also be filed with the Swiss Judicial Department later this year, the spokesman said.

Under a bilateral judicial aid agreement, the Swiss government last November handed over a collection of bank files suspected of being linked to the Lafayette kickback scandal to the government.

"After poring over the six cases of files brought back from Switzerland, we discovered that each time our government made a payment installment for the frigates, a sum roughly equivalent to 18 percent of the payment would `coincidently' be remitted into bank accounts owned by Wang or members of his family," the spokesman said. "We suspect that the remittances were illegal kickbacks."

The Swiss files show that frozen deposits in the Wang family's bank accounts top NT$23 billion (US$707.87 million). Even after the family's legal assets are deducted, the amount that the government intends to reclaim would still be huge.

Long process

It might take three to five years to conclude the lawsuit, the spokesman said, adding that the government might still seek judicial aid from several other countries, including France and Luxembourg, to back its request for Switzerland to return the money.

Moreover, the spokesman said, the lawsuit will be very expensive.

According to a preliminary estimate, the cost of retaining foreign lawyers alone could exceed NT$100 million.

"The Ministry of Justice must appropriate a budget for the lawsuit," he said.

The files brought back from Switzerland include 46 bank accounts under the names of Wang, his three sons and Wang's company, all of whose accounts have been frozen by the Swiss Federal Court.

Wang is the key suspect in the scandal.

The files, which are written in English, French and German, also include a number of previously hidden overseas bank accounts related to the US$2.8 billion Lafayette deal, as well as information about relevant capital flows in Switzerland, judicial authorities said, adding that the Swiss court files clearly document deposit times and destinations of the capital.

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