Taiwan ex-officer gets 15 years jail in French frigate deal
A Taiwanese court on Friday sentenced a former navy captain to 15 years in prison for taking bribes in a controversial deal to buy French frigates in 1991.
Kuo Li-heng, then working for the navy's submarine building project, was convicted of accepting 17 million US dollars in kickbacks from arms dealer Andrew Wang to facilitate the deal, said the Taipei district court.
His brother Kuo Wen-tien received a two-year jail term for helping him launder the ill-gotten money by opening bank accounts in Switzerland, the court said in a statement.
The court in June cleared six former navy officials of corruption charges in the same deal as there was not enough evidence to prove they made illegal gains from the acquisition.
The cases stemmed from a 1991 deal struck by Taiwan to buy six French-made Lafayette-class frigates 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.
Allegations of backhanders emerged after the body of the officer who ran the Taiwanese navy's weapons acquisitions office was found floating in the sea off the island's east coast in 1993.
Further suspicions arose when Swiss courts discovered 520 million dollars in accounts held by Wang.
Wang was allegedly tasked with convincing Taiwan to buy the ships and is the main suspect in the case but remains at large.
In May, a Paris-based court of arbitration ordered French group Thales, formally Thomson-CSF, to compensate Taiwan for unauthorised commissions in the deal.
© 2010 AFP