Probe may shed light on frigate scandal

The China Post staff

Kang Ning-hsiung, head of a panel of Control Yuan members probing the case of alleged kickbacks in Taiwan’s purchase of six frigates from France, confirmed yesterday that judicial investigators in Taiwan have established contact with investigators in Switzerland for a joint probe.

The Chinese-language United Daily News (UDN) reported in a dispatch from Bern that a Swiss justice department official and a judge hed met with a team of investigators from Taiwan headed by prosecutor Lo Rong-chian in Bern on July 30 to discuss the establishment of mutual assistance channels. Due to the absence of official diplomatic relationship, Taiwan and Switzerland had never before set up formal cooperation channels in the field of judicial cases. The Swiss officials said the joint investigation into the deposits in a Swiss bank as alleged commission payment involving Taiwan’s procurement of Lafayette frigates from France can establish a model for cooperation and shed light on the mysterious case. They said that such a cooperative format will enable Switzerland to solicit reciprocal assistance from Taiwan’s law enforcement authorities if necessary in the future. The UND reports said the lawyer retained by the ROC Navy will file a formal application with Swiss judicial authorities to request assistance in the investigation. When the request is granted, probably in September, officials from Taiwan, Switzerland and France will start a trilateral probe pooling all resources and evidence gathered. The report said that Switzerland has frozen funds, 250 million Swiss francs (over NT$6 billion) deposited in former arms dealer, Wang Chuan-pu’s Swiss bank account, until evidence is gathered to prove that the money is indeed the kickback money from the battleship procurement deal. Following the completion of the probe into the funds, Taiwan will be able to request that the freeze be lifted and ask for extradition of Wang. Control Yuan member Kang Ning-hsiang confirmed that he recently visited both Switzerland and France and won promises for assistance in the form of a joint investigation. Kang said the trilateral cooperation will be more effective in uncovering the truth than the past practice of confining the investigation to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the China Express News, quoted informed sources that the special investigation task force had screened financial transactions at close to 700 questionable accounts at the Taipei branch of French bank Societe Generale. It found that NT$30 million cash was transferred from the French bank into a bank account of a former senior official at the Presidential Office. One week later, the money was transferred through the name of a political party into the bank account of an American language school in Taichung. The evening daily quoted informed sources as saying, when the task force was going to verify if the huge fund was related to the alleged commission derived from purchases of Lafayette frigates, the initial investigation report mysteriously went missing. The newspaper said members of the task force felt discouraged by the incident and worried that high-ranking officials might be pulling strings behind the scene. Members of the task force hoped that the cooperation with Swiss and French officials might offer a chance to revive the probe into the case involving the NT$30 million.