Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 3 News List

French block release of secret files on frigate sale

AFP , PARIS

The investigation into alleged kickbacks paid to French officials for the US$2.8 billion sale of French-made frigates to Taiwan in 1991 has hit another wall after authorities refused to release top-secret defense documents.

The decision by the Consultative Commission on National Defense Secrets (CCSDN) not to release documents requested by investigating magistrates was made on July 21 but only published in France's Official Journal yesterday.

Finance Minister Thierry Breton holds the final decision on whether to fulfill the requests of judges Renaud van Ruymbeke and Xaviere Simeoni who head the inquiry, but the CCSDN's decisions are almost always followed.

The finance ministry yesterday refused to comment on the case.

The latest rejection was seen as "political obstruction to the work of the courts," a source close to the investigation said.

The inquiry, launched in 2001, is probing accusations that a large part of the US$2.8 billion paid by Taiwan for six French-made frigates 15 years ago went on commissions to middlemen, politicians and military officers in Taiwan, China and France.

Taiwan's highest anti-graft body has indicated that as much as US$400 million in bribes for the warships built by France's Thomson-CSF (now Thales) might have been paid.

Van Ruymbeke and Simeoni are particularly interested in a list held by the customs service which details commissions paid to Taiwanese and Chinese middlemen.

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