French authorities seek end to Taiwan bribes case

PARIS Wed Aug 6, 2008 2:02pm BST

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PARIS Aug 6 (Reuters) - French authorities have requested that a marathon corruption investigation linked to arms sales to Taiwan in the 1990s be dropped for lack of evidence, the Paris prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.

The scandal around the sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991 was one of a series of cases that underpinned accusations of widespread corruption during the final years of the late President Francois Mitterrand.

It also lay at the heart of the tortuous "Clearstream" affair in which former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was accused of plotting to smear his rival for the presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Paris state prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin signed an order last month closing the case after deciding that the investigation had not produced any evidence of illegal payments behind the $2.8 billion frigate deal.

The two magistrates who have been examining the affair since 2001, Renaud Van Ruymbeke and Xavier Simeoni, will have to take a final decision on whether to close the case.

The Paris prosecutor also decided there was no evidence to support corruption allegations in a related suit that targeted several former executives of oil group Elf Aquitaine, which has since been acquired by Total (TOTF.PA).

The case centred on allegations that bribes were paid to win the 1991 deal to sell the Taiwanese navy six Lafayette-class frigates built by French industrial group Thomson-CSF, which has since become defence group Thales (TCFP.PA).

Numerous officials and military officers in Taiwan have been charged in the affair as well as several top Elf executives including former chief executive Loic Le Floch-Prigent and his controversial aide Alfred Sirven, who has since died.

Roland Dumas, who served as foreign minister under former President Francois Mitterrand, was also implicated through his mistress, a former Elf lobbyist named Christine Deviers-Joncour but always denied wrongdoing.

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