Senior officers from the navy yesterday said they have sent a formal letter to the French government, requesting an explanation of allegations raised by opposition lawmakers that Taiwan was charged more than Singapore for six Lafayette-class frigates in a deal brokered in 1991.
The allegations are just the latest in a series of charges that have been brought to light in a procurement case full of intrigue, accusations of US$760 million in kickbacks and even murder.
"The letter was sent on March 10. We want to know if Singapore bought Lafayette-class frigates at one-third the price the French government charged Taiwan for the same product," said Rear Admiral Lei Kuang-shu
PHOTO: HAKU JUI-PO HUANG, LIBERY TIMES
"We also want the French government to give an explanation regarding the alleged multi-billion kickbacks in connection with the US$2.7 billion Lafayette frigate sale between Taiwan and France in 1991," he said.
Lei made the statements yesterday in response to inquiries from the press over the alleged kickback scandal, which received renewed media attention after the arrival in Taiwan of Christine Deviers-Joncour, the ex-mistress of former French foreign minister Roland Dumas.
Deviers-Joncour said she came to Taipei to push for a separate Taiwan investigation into alleged kickbacks over the sale.
Dumas, 77, is being investigated for allegedly benefitting from commissions worth US$10 million paid by oil group Elf to Deviers-Joncour in an attempt to have him reverse his opposition to the sale.
The former state-owned oil company Elf had lobbied the French foreign ministry on behalf of Thomson-CSF, which built the six frigates for Taiwan.
Dumas, who is to be tried in June on charges of conspiracy and fraud in relation to corruption at Elf, said in a recent interview with French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur that investigators should be looking into kickbacks made when Thomson sold the frigates to Taiwan.
Deviers-Joncour, speaking through an interpreter, said yesterday that she wanted "the clouds hanging over the case to disperse."
She said she was not sure if any Taiwanese government officials were implicated in the scandal, but she believed there was a link with the 1993 murder of a Taiwan naval captain.
A direct link with the death of Captain Yin Ching-feng (
However, during the investigation, 28 people, including 13 military officers, were arrested and sentenced to jail terms of up to life imprisonment for graft and leaking confidential military information.
Yin, whose body was found floating off the east coast of Taiwan, was believed to be planning to report the leaks to superiors when he was killed.
At the center of the murder investigation was Colonel Kuo Li-heng
Kuo pleaded not guilty and authorities are still searching for Wang.
Defense Ministry spokesman Kung Fan-ding
"The special group has since convened 115 meetings, with the latest one held last Thursday," Kung said.
The defense ministry has offered a NT$30 million reward for information that will crack the murder inquiry and Kung said it would welcome any information provided by Deviers-Joncour.
In February, French magistrates referred Dumas, Deviers-Joncour and five others to trial, including former Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent and Alfred Sirven, a top company executive who has been on the run for the last three years.
Two French newspapers reported yesterday that Sirven is currently living in the Philippines.
Lei, meanwhile, denied allegations that the six frigates also had design and manufacturing defects.
He said the navy has already answered all questions over the quality of the frigates.
"The navy wants to assure the public that the Lafayette frigates are in good condition and that they are now responsible for the majority of patrol and escort missions in the Taiwan Strait and around the island," Lei said.
"[New Party lawmaker and vice presidential candidate] Elmer Feng
One defense official, who declined to be identified, said Beijing probably obtained all the information it wanted to know about the Lafayette frigates before France and Taiwan signed the deal. The information was bought, not given, the official added.
Meanwhile, Lei admitted that the Lafayette frigate does have a defect in the design of its propulsion system and that all six of the ships are scheduled be overhauled.
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