Taiwan ex-navy officials cleared over French frigate deal

25th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Taiwanese court on Friday cleared five former navy officials of corruption charges over a controversial deal to buy French frigates in 1991.

The defendants, including retired Vice Admiral Lei Hsueh-ming, were found not guilty due to lack of evidence that they made illegal gains from the acquisition, the Taipei district court said in a statement.

They were indicted in 2001 for allegedly inflating the prices of the warships by 200 million Taiwan dollars (6.25 million US at the current exchange rate), according to the statement.

The case stemmed from a 1991 deal struck by Taiwan to buy six French-made Lafayette-class frigates built for 2.8 billion US dollars -- a deal that strained French ties with China at the time.

A French judicial probe opened in 2001 to investigate claims that much of the money paid by Taiwan a decade earlier went towards commissions to middlemen, politicians and military officers in Taiwan, China and France.

Taiwan's highest anti-graft body concluded in the same year that as much as 400 million dollars in bribes may have been paid throughout the course of the deal.

In 2008 a French judge ordered the dismissal without trial of one of France's biggest graft cases, involving massive kickbacks in the frigate sale to Taiwan, citing a lack of evidence.

Last month, a Paris-based court of arbitration ordered French group Thales, formally Thomson-CSF, to compensate Taiwan for unauthorised commissions in the deal.

Taiwan's defence ministry estimated the amount at around 861 million US dollars.

© 2010 AFP

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