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Court approves seizure of US$400 million in Lafayette frigate scandal

ROC Central News Agency

08/13/2021 07:36 PM

Taipei, Aug. 13 (CNA) The Supreme Court has granted a request to seize over US$400 million in funds from the heirs of Andrew Wang (汪傳浦), an arms broker at the center of a scandal involving the Taiwan Navy's purchase of Lafayette frigates from France in the 1990s.

In a ruling issued Thursday, the court upheld the approval of a seizure petition by the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office, after dismissing an appeal by Wang's widow and children, who currently hold the assets in Swiss bank accounts.

The controversy surrounding Wang stemmed from his role as a representative of France's Thomson-CSF (now Thales), which partnered with a French state-owned shipyard in 1991 to sell six Lafayette-class frigates to Taiwan's Navy for US$2.8 billion.

Wang is believed to have facilitated the deal by managing hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to figures in both countries, including a US$17 million payment to former Taiwan Navy Captain Kuo Li-heng (郭力恆), who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2014.

After coming under suspicion, Wang fled Taiwan for the United Kingdom in 1993, where he died in 2015, leaving millions of dollars still frozen in Swiss bank accounts.

In an effort to recover some of the funds, Taiwan passed a legal revision in 2016 that allowed courts to order the confiscation of allegedly illegal profits without a criminal conviction or sentence.

Under the revised law, the now-disbanded Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors Office filed a request with the Taipei District Court to seize a total of US$960 million from Wang's widow Yeh Hsiu-chen (葉秀貞), their four children, and three companies under their control.

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which in 2019 approved the seizure of over US$300 million, while ordering a second trial to determine the legal ownership of the remaining funds.

Following a retrial of the case, the Taiwan High Court issued a ruling in July granting prosecutors' request to confiscate another US$520.74 million in ill-gotten assets from the family.

Meanwhile, in the process of investigating the case, the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office uncovered US$400 million in previously unknown assets, which Wang's family members had deposited in Swiss accounts.

When the prosecutors' request to seize those funds was also approved by the High Court, Wang's heirs appealed, on the grounds that the money was legally obtained.

In its ruling Thursday, however, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision, though it acknowledged that this was a largely formal step, the execution of which would depend on the government's negotiations with Swiss authorities.

Taiwan's Ministry of Justice is already working to recover US$266 million in funds from the Lafayette case, which Switzerland agreed to return earlier this year.

(By Hsiao Po-wen and Matthew Mazzetta)

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