Frenchman not guilty of spying in South Korea

16th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

SEOUL, May 16, 2006 (AFP) - A South Korean court on Tuesday dismissed charges against a French businessman of obtaining military secrets.

SEOUL, May 16, 2006 (AFP) - A South Korean court on Tuesday dismissed charges against a French businessman of obtaining military secrets.

Prosecutors had charged Bernard Favre d'Echallens, local head of French defense company Thales, with obtaining classified documents about radar equipment for the South Korean Navy.

But the 56-year-old Frenchman was acquitted at his trial Tuesday in the central city of Daejon.

"The court refused to accept our charges against him. We will appeal against the decision," a prosecution official in Daejon told AFP.

Prosecutors accused the Thales official of obtaining the information through Park Yang-Bae, a Korean consultant who was a former official of South Korea's Agency for Defense Development (ADD) in Daejon.

Park, 65, got a one-year prison sentence after he was found guilty of receiving kickbacks. But the court acquitted a 45-year-old ADD researcher, identified only as Lee, the prosecution official said.

The court said prosecutors failed to present hard evidence to prove that Favre d'Echallens and Lee violated laws protecting South Korean military secrets, according to Yonhap news agency.

At previous hearings Favre d'Echallens asserted his innocence, insisting he never induced or conspired with Park to obtain classified information.

Lee, the researcher, said the information he delivered to Thales through Park was not classified and the verdict agreed it was not.

Thales, a defense and electronics company that is one-third owned by the French government, has denied any wrongdoing. It was among international defense firms expected to bid for a contract to sell a radar system for 24 frigates which South Korea plans to build by 2020.

Daejon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, is the headquarters of the state-funded ADD, responsible for developing radar systems for the new generation of warships.

The case was a first in South Korea in which military secrets were allegedly leaked to a foreign arms dealer.

International defense firms are chasing lucrative contracts as South Korea upgrades its military as part of President Roh Moo-Hyun's drive to become less reliant on the United States.

Thales won a contract in 2004 for a new South Korean surface-to-air missile system that is part of the military upgrade. Also included is the so-called FFX project to build 24 frigates by 2020.

Though the bidding process has yet to start, Thales was among international defense firms expected to compete for a contract to supply the ship radar systems.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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