Ex-Navy captain convicted in Lafayette case, but will skip sentence
Central News Agency
2014-04-16 10:48 PM
Taipei, April 16 (CNA) A former Navy captain has been sentenced to 15 years behind bars for his role taking kickbacks from the purchase of six Lafayette-class frigates two decades ago, but he will not have to go back to prison because of time spent serving a separate sentence. The Supreme Court on Wednesday handed Kuo Li-heng the 15 -year sentence and a fine of NT$200 million (US$6.63 million) and demanded the return of NT$10 billion in illicit gains frozen in foreign bank accounts. But thanks to a clause in the Criminal Code, the 60-year-old Kuo will be able to avoid the jail sentence because he was released last December after serving 20 years in prison for a separate purchasing scandal. He was transferred last year to a civilian court while serving a military court-given sentence of life imprisonment, part of a larger reform of Taiwan's military law system. The civilian Criminal Code when Kuo's sentence began limited an individual's prison term to a maximum 20 years. Kuo is best known for his connection to the death of his former boss, Capt. Yin Ching-feng, whose 1993 murder remains unsolved. Kuo at the time was an officer in the Navy's weapons procurement office and is seen as one of a few people who knows the circumstances surrounding Yin's death. Yin is widely believed to have been murdered because he was preparing to blow the whistle and name the people who had taken kickbacks from the inflated prices Taiwan paid for the six frigates purchased from France. Around a dozen others, both Taiwanese and French, have died under suspicious circumstances since Yin's body was found by local fishermen on Dec. 10, 1993 in waters off Taiwan's eastern coastal town of Suao. In addition to his possible knowledge about the Yin case, Kuo's case has received major attention for the massive amounts of money he had stashed away outside of Taiwan. The ruling by the Supreme Court means that Taiwan can finally lodge an application with Swiss authorities to retrieve NT$10.4 billion that has been frozen in the accounts of arms broker Andrew Wang. Wang brokered the deal between French contractor Thomson-CSF (later renamed Thales Group) and the Republic of China (Taiwan) Navy, which edged out an alternate offer for frigates from South Korea. He fled Taiwan following Yin's death and he has been on the country's wanted list on murder charges since September 2000. Taiwan had asked Swiss authorities to freeze Wang's accounts, but they have declined requests to return the funds within pending a final ruling on the case. The Supreme Court's decision upheld the ruling of the High Court, which established Kuo's relationship with Wang and their role as the principal offenders. After Thomson-CSF won the bid to sell the frigates, Kuo was key to providing military information to Wang, the High Court found. Thales paid US$875 million to Taiwan in 2011, more than one year after an international arbitration court ruled in favor of the Taiwanese military, for unauthorized commissions in violation of the deal's contract. The US$875 million sum includes a fine, interest, litigation fees and other expenses that have been built up in the years of international legal wrangling. (By Page Tsai, Chen Yi-wei and Lilian Wu)
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