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SWITZERLAND TO OFFER TAIWAN JUDICIAL AID IN LAFAYETTE SCANDAL PROBES

ROC Central News Agency

2005-10-28 00:59:49

    Geneva, Oct. 27 (CNA) The Swiss Federal Commission approved Thursday the handover of bank files to foreign judicial authorities concerning the controversial sale of French warships to Taiwan.

    The Swiss commission rejected an appeal by fugitive Taiwanese arms broker Andrew Wang -- who is suspected of organizing massive rake-offs -- to stop judicial cooperation with Taiwan, France, and Liechtenstein.

    A French judicial investigation was opened in 2001 into claims that a large part of the US$2.8 billion paid by Taiwan for the six Lafayette-class frigates in 1991 went on commissions to middlemen, politicians and military officers in Taiwan, China and France.

    Wang, who fled Taiwan more than 10 years ago, had claimed that Switzerland's national interest was at stake when he argued against allowing foreign authorities to study Swiss bank documents related to the case.

    But the seven-member Swiss governing commission said that failing to cooperate was not in Switzerland's interests.

    Noting that all three countries had ongoing investigations into the Lafayette deal, the Swiss Federal Commission ruled that it was vital for Switzerland to ensure that its financial sector was not used for criminal purposes.

    The commission's decision will open the way for judicial exchanges between Switzerland and Taiwan. It will be the first Taiwan-Switzerland judicial aid case. For fear of offending China, the commission said its decision doesn't constitute a diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

    Last year, Switzerland's highest court decided that there was sufficient evidence to implicate Wang in the affair and overruled his bid to keep the bank documents under wraps.

    On Oct. 6 this year, the Swiss court further ruled that bank documents relating to the Lafayette kickback case should be turned over to Taiwan's government because its has guaranteed that it will not invoke the death penalty against Andrew.

    Premier Frank Hsieh gave the "no death penalty" assurances Aug. 26 and the Swiss court was satisfied, enabling the transfer of the documents.

    Taiwan has charged Wang with murder, corruption, money laundering and fraud. He was an agent in Taiwan for Thomson-CSF, the French company that sold the frigates to Taiwan.

    Wang fled Taiwan following the death of ROC Navy Captain Yin Ching-feng, who was widely believed to have been murdered when he was about to blow the whistle on colleagues for allegedly taking kickbacks in the deal.

    The ships had all been delivered to Taiwan by the mid-1990s, and both Switzerland and Liechtenstein have frozen funds in Wang's and his son's accounts that are allegedly linked to the case.

    The investigations began when the Taiwanese authorities concluded from the inflated price that the deal constituted a serious case of international corruption.

    France, Liechtenstein and Taiwan, investigating whether the case had violated their laws, asked the Swiss authorities to hand over the bank documents to facilitate their investigations.

    According to media reports, some US$500 million remains frozen in 46 accounts with different banks in Switzerland as part of a Swiss investigation into alleged money laundering linked to the case. Authorities in neighboring Liechtenstein have frozen around US$27 million as part of their own investigations, the reports said.

    Opposition Kuomintang Legislator Lee Ching-hua said earlier this month that the government should have Wang extradited back to Taiwan to serve as asuspect-turned-prosecution-witness to facilitate the probe into whether any Taiwan politicians or military officials obtained illegal kickbacks from the Lafayette deal.

(By Sofia Wu)

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