A Taiwanese court yesterday sentenced a former navy captain to 15 years in prison for taking bribes in a controversial deal to buy French frigates in 1991.
Kuo Li-heng (郭力恆), then working for the Navy’s submarine building project, was convicted of accepting US$17 million in kickbacks from arms dealer Andrew Wang (汪傳浦) to facilitate the deal, the Taipei district court said.
His brother, Kuo Wen-tien (郭問天), received a two-year jail term for helping him launder the ill-gotten money by opening bank accounts in Switzerland, the court said in a statement.
The court in June cleared six former navy officials of corruption charges in the same deal as there was not enough evidence to prove they made illegal gains from the acquisition.
The cases stemmed from a 1991 deal struck by Taiwan to buy six French-made Lafayette-class frigates for US$2.8 billion — a deal that severely strained France’s relations with China at the time.
A French judicial probe opened in 2001 to investigate claims that much of the money paid by Taiwan a decade earlier went towards commissions to middlemen, politicians and military officers in Taiwan, China and France.
Taiwan’s highest anti-graft body concluded in the same year that as much as US$400 million in bribes may have been paid throughout the course of the deal.
Allegations of bribery emerged after the body of the officer who ran the Taiwanese Navy’s weapons acquisitions office was found floating in the sea off the nation’s east coast in 1993.
Further suspicions arose when Swiss courts discovered US$520 million in accounts held by Wang.
Wang was allegedly tasked with convincing Taiwan to buy the ships and is the main suspect in the case, but remains at large.
In May, a Paris-based court of arbitration ordered French group Thales, formally Thomson-CSF, to compensate Taiwan for unauthorized commissions in the deal.
Meanwhile, a Taiwanese businessman was facing US prison time for illegal exports of banned missile, drone and other military parts to Iran.
Chen Yi-lan (陳宜蘭), who was to be sentenced in Miami yesterday, pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to violate the US embargo against Iran and attempting to export dual-use equipment to Iran.
The charges carry maximum 20-year sentences, but Chen likely will get less prison time under federal guidelines.
Chen was arrested in February in Guam in the midst of a one of at least 30 banned transactions to Iran since 2007.
Officials say he falsely claimed the Iran-bound shipments were destined for Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Some shipments involved engines that can be used in unmanned drones.
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