ROC office in Switzerland denies it let address to Elf

The China Post staff and agencies

Taipei yesterday denied that government authorities had ever lent or rented the address of its representative office in Switzerland to a French company, which was allegedly involved in the Lafayette frigate kickback scandal. Vice Foreign Minister Lee Ta-wei also denied the claim. “This is impossible, it is too absurd,” said Vice Foreign Minister David Lee. Chi Wang-teh, a secretary at the ROC’s cultural and economic office in Switzerland said the French company in question, at least at the moment, does not maintain an office in the building where the ROC office is located now. According to the Paris mass-circulation daily Le Figaro, Alfred Sirven, a key suspect in the military procurement graft case, established and managed Frontier AG Bern at 30 Monbijou Strasse in the Swiss capital city of Bern from 1983 to 1994. The same address is now occupied by the ROC office, which moved in from Lausanne in 1995.

Sirven was an official in charge of international affairs at France-based Elf Group. Frontier AG was reportedly established to take charge of Elf’s operations in Switzerland.

The paper went on to claim that Sirven’s partner Edmond Kwan worked for Frontier AG and was in charge of lobbying mainland Chinese authorities to refrain from opposing sales of the French made Lafayette frigates to the ROC Navy.

Chi pointed out that the chances of a “coincidence” of using the same office space at different times are quite likely, given that Bern, the center of Swiss politics and culture, has a notable lack of commercial office buildings to choose from. But it was unlikely the representative office would allow the French company to use the same address, Chi said. Meanwhile, the ROC’s intelligence chief has quietly flown to Paris to seek assistance in an investigation into Taiwan’s worst military scandal.

Wang Kuang-yu, head of the Investigation Bureau, departed Saturday for Paris where he would confer with his French counterpart regarding the scandal-ridden frigate deal Paris struck with Taipei in 1992, the United Daily News reported.

The paper said Wang had reported to President Chen Shui-bian and state public prosecutor general Lu Jen fa before his departure.

But the bureau denied the report saying Wang would attend a conference in Britain on international crime and would stop over in Paris on his way back.

To honor a commitment to crack down on official corruption, in August President Chen launched a special investigation into the scandal which is believed to be connected to the murder of a naval captain. The special team is led by General Lu.

The paper said that during his stay in France, Wang might meet with arms broker Tu-cheng Chun-chu, believed to have information about the death of naval captain Yin Ching-feng.

Since August a naval captain and two retired naval officers have been detained on suspicion of inflating the arms deal by NT$20 billion (US$643.7 million), the United Daily News said.

A fourth suspect — retired officer Hsuan Peng-lai — was released after questioning.

“Evidence suggests they had followed orders from their superiors in the arms deal” to favor certain brokers, the paper said.

Taipei and Paris agreed the US$2.8 billion deal in 1992 for the acquisition of four Lafayette class stealth frigates.

The scandal came to light a year after the purchase when the body of Yin, chief of the navy’s arms acquisition office, was found floating off east Taiwan.

It was believed Yin, described by relatives as a loyal officer, was ready to report irregularities in the purchase when he disappeared.

Police are treating the case as a homicide.

No-one has been linked to Yin’s murder, although the navy’s commander-in-chief resigned to take responsibility for his death.

So far 28 people, including 13 military officers and 15 arms brokers, have been jailed on charges relating to the scandal covering bribes and the leaking of military secrets.

In France, the scandal forced former foreign minister Roland Dumas to step down as president of the Constitutional Council, France’s top judicial authority.

Dumas’ mistress at the time, Christine Deviers-Joncourt, who also faces trial, claims she was hired by French oil group Elf to use her influence to persuade him to reverse his opposition to the contract.

Elf had in turn been hired by the frigates’ manufacturer Thomson CSF. It was reported the arms sale was initially vetoed by the French government after opposition from mainland China, but the deal eventually went ahead.