High ranking officials linked to warship purchase scandal

The China Post staff

An official at the island’s top government watchdog body yesterday hinted at the involvement of high ranking officials in a warship scandal.

Earlier this week, nine retired naval officials were indicted for taking bribes in the scam. Kang Ning-hsiang, a member of the Control Yuan, said yesterday he had come back from France with new evidence pointing to the involvement of high ranking officials in the scam. However, Kang would not specify who the “higher ranking” officers were.

According to Kang, recently returned from France and Switzerland, Lei Hsueh-ming, former Navy vice admiral who was accused of corruption, was merely carrying out orders from higher ranking officers when handling the frigate procurement project.

Kang said Lei is unquestionably a top military officer, adding that he was upset at the indictment of Lei and eight other retirees.

During his trip to Luxembourg, Kang says he discovered evidence of illegal bank deposits from Taiwan into Swiss accounts.

The bank has already fired three ranking executives, Kang said.

The deposits, worth billions of NT dollars, are thought to be kickbacks used to secure a French contract to supply Taiwan with warships in early ‘90s. The accounts reportedly belong to Andrew Wang, an arms dealer that is currently wanted by Taiwan authorities in connection with the murder of a likely whistleblower related to the scandal. Swiss authorities have blocked several accounts belonging to Wang and his family, both in Switzerland and in neighboring Luxembourg.

Kang added Taiwan will seek to exchange evidence with Switzerland.

In the scam, six former Navy officers were charged with extorting huge profits for French arms suppliers Thomson-CSF by abusing their authority in inflating warship prices in a 1991 deal.

Those accused including Lei, former rear-admiral Yao Neng-chun, three captains and one commander.

Taiwan paid US$650 million more than it should have in the deal that was valued US$2.7 billion, according to prosecutors who have also requested that the Taipei District Court sentence the accused to jail terms of 10 to 14 years.

Lei and his family were unconvinced of the indictment, saying neither Lei nor the five other Navy officers even possessed the capability to commit the crime.