Taiwan won't appeal acquittals in French frigate case

10th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Taiwanese authorities said Wednesday they would not appeal against the acquittal of five ex-navy officials of corruption charges over a controversial deal to buy French frigates in 1991.

Prosecutors decided to drop the appeal to avoid "wasting more judicial resources" due to the lack of evidence in a probe and trial that spanned 10 years, said Honda Chen, a spokesman for the prosecution.

The defendants, including retired vice admiral Lei Hsueh-ming, were indicted in 2001 for allegedly making illegal gains from the deal. The Taipei district court in June cleared them citing insufficient evidence.

In a related case, prosecutors will however appeal against the ruling on former navy captain Kuo Li-heng as they disagreed with the court on the amount of bribes he was deemed to have taken in the frigate deal, Chen said.

Kuo, then working for the navy's submarine building project, was sentenced to 15 years in jail earlier this year for accepting 17 million US dollars in kickbacks from arms dealer Andrew Wang to facilitate the deal.

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.

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

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