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Court dismisses corruption investigation

Article published on the 2008-08-06 Latest update 2008-08-06 13:53 TU

A French frigate of they type sold to Taiwan

A French frigate of they type sold to Taiwan

Prosecutors in the case of the Taiwan frigates scandal, the biggest corruption investigation for 50 years in France, dismissed the case for lack of evidence on Wednesday. The inquiry, which had lasted seven years, implicated French politicians and military officials.

The inquiry sought to establish whether French politicians, military officials and other middlemen had illegally profited from the sale of French-made ships to Taiwan in 1991.

The Taiwanese navy paid 2.8 billion dollars for the six frigates, but it was alleged that substantial parts of this money disappeared into the pockets of various officials.

French financial judges Renaud van Ruymbeke and Xavière Simeoni claimed at the end of their initial investigation in 2005 that they had repeatedly been denied access to confidential government defence files which were at the heart of the case.

The prosecutor said when dismissing the case today that their investigations had not "brought to light the existence of retro-commissions" supposedly paid in the sale.

Taiwan's highest anti-corruption body claims that up to 260 million euros from the sale could have been paid in bribes, and Taiwan is seeking damages of close to one billion euros from France before an international court of arbitration.

The allegations arose following the discovery of a corpse floating in the sea off the coast of Taiwan, which turned out to be that of the officer in charge of buying weapons for the Taiwanese navy.

Further suspicions arose when investigators found about 340 million euros in the account of businessman Andrew Wang, who had allegedly been hired to convince Taiwan to purchase the ships from France.

Wang has been charged in Taiwan in relation to the scandal, along with seven other people. Thirteen officers and 15 arms dealers have already been imprisoned there.

The frigate sale is also at the heart of the Clearstream affair, an ongoing political scandal involving some of France's top politicians. It was alleged that President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then Interior Minister, had received kickbacks from the sale and had hidden the cash in a secret bank account.

Sarkozy was fully exonerated, but the question remains of who falsified the accounts to include his name.