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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

MND to complete probe into legality of controversial arms firm soon

ROC Central News Agency

2008-03-27 19:23:06

    Taipei, March 27 (CNA) Minister of National Defense Tsai Ming-shian said Thursday that the ministry should be able to complete a probe into suspected irregularities surrounding a controversial private arms firm in the next few days.

    He said the current probe focuses on whether the firm, Taiwan Goal, had been legally established and whether there was any dereliction of duty on the part of military personnel.

    The ministry is also investigating how opposition Kuomintang legislators got hold of information pertaining to the company's secret arms talks with France, Tsai said during a question-and-answer session in a legislative committee meeting.

    Reports have said that former Defense Minister Lee Tien-yu, Deputy Minister of National Defense Lin Cheng-yi and Wu Wei-jung, director-general of the MND's Armament Bureau, will soon be questioned over the leak.

    KMT lawmakers reportedly obtained information that Taiwan Goal was engaged in secret talks with France on the procurement of eight minehunter vessels, the newest multi-role fighter jet "Rafale," weaponry for the La Fayette class frigate, and devices required to upgrade the Mirage fighter jet. Wu was said to have traveled to France four times in connection with the planned purchase.

    Tsai said that he hoped the investigation into the information leak would be completed as soon as possible, adding that he was sure it could be wrapped up by May 20, when President-elect Ma Ying-jeou will assume office.

    Tsai also said that as a democratic country, Taiwan does not require its defense minister to pledge allegiance to the president-elect. "Only in Communist or one-party countries is the national defence minister required to lead the military in pledging allegiance (to the head of state)," he added.

    Noting that President Chen Shui-bian has invited Ma to attend a military wargame simulation, Tsai said that he would like to brief Ma on matters of national defense.

    Taiwan Goal was thrown into the limelight after a local newspaper reported on its existence in mid-February. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) later confirmed that Taiwan Goal had registered on Jan. 28 as a private company, with capital of NT$1 billion (US$31.15 million) and paid-in capital totaling NT$80 million.

    Wu Nai-jen, a heavyweight of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and head of China Steel Machinery Corp., serves as chairman of the company.

    MOEA data also shows that Taiwan Goal has a seven-member board of directors, with three seats held by the MND, which has pledged to contribute 45 percent of the capital, making it the largest shareholder in the company.

    The launch of the company drew flak from opposition lawmakers, who questioned whether it had been registered as a private firm to avoid legislative oversight, although most of its funding had come from the MND or government affiliated companies.

    They also said they had misgivings about Wu, who has no background in arms purchasing, heading the company.

    In light of the controversy surrounding the company, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung has said that it will no longer receive government funding.

    Wu also announced that he would soon disband the company.

(By Lilian Wu)

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