Taiwan Solidarity Union Chairman Shu Chin-chiang (蘇進強) said yesterday that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was not involved in the decision-making process for the Lafayette-class frigate purchase, and that he did not have the power to interfere with military affairs.
A special prosecutorial panel investigating the kickback and murder case involving the 1991 purchase of the Lafayette-class frigates on Monday questioned Lee at his office at the Taiwan Research Institute.
"Former president Lee was not informed of the navy's decision to change its original plan to purchase South Korean-made frigates to purchase the French-made frigates instead. Then-chief of the navy Yeh Chang-tung (葉昌桐) never reported the proposal for procuring the Lafayette frigates to Lee, but when Lee asked the navy to report on the progress of buying South Korean-made frigates in August 1991, Yeh turned in a document saying the navy had decided to purchase the Lafayette frigates instead," Shu said yesterday at a press conference on behalf of Lee.
Shu added Lee therefore only wrote the word `acknowledged' on the document, which implied he was not involved in the decision-making process for the warship procurement.
Shu said Lee denied former premier Hau Pei-tsun's (郝柏村) statement, made after he was questioned by investigators last week, in which Hau said Lee had made the final decision to buy the French-made frigates.
"As the then-chief of the general staff, I did not have a predominant position in arms procurement. The chief of the armed forces [the president] had the final say on the arms bill," Hau told reporters as he left the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office last week.
"I told the navy that it would be good to compare more types of warships before making a final decision. But the conclusion to purchase Lafayette frigates was a naval decision, and I did not interfere in the matter," he said.
Hau served as chief of general staff from 1981 to 1989. In December 1989 Hau was appointed minister of national defense, and in May 1990 he became premier. He was long considered the most powerful and influential figure in the military.
The government's original plan in 1988 was to purchase South Korean-made frigates, but in 1990 it decided to purchase the French-made frigates instead.
The special prosecutorial panel is attempting to determine why the government changed its mind.
Earlier this month prosecutors subpoenaed former deputy chief of the general staff Hsia Tien (夏甸) as a witness.
Hsia accompanied Hau on a trip to France in 1989, when they both visited the shipyard where the Lafayette frigates were built. While in France, Hsia filed a cable during the visit -- on Hau's orders -- asking the navy to suspend its plan to procure the South Korean frigates.
The cable is believed to detail the government's about-face on the ship procurement.
The navy later allegedly began to fake the performance data on Lafayette frigates and inflate their price.
The special prosecutorial panel indicted retired vice admiral Lei Hsueh-ming (雷學明), former head of the fleet control office, and other officials in 1991 on charges of corruption, for fabricating data on the Lafayettes' performance and costs.
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