Saturday, April 23, 2005

Frigates to Taiwan: a development!

Ye may recall my obituary on French crook Alfred Sirven, the former World's Most Wanted Man and kingpin of the Elf-Aquitaine scandals. There's an interesting report (French) in Le Figaro on a new development in one of the scandal's many wings. Renaud van Ruymbeke, the judge who is still investigating the "frigates affair" section of the case, has been questioning the Director General of Thales, the French weapons and electronics conglomerate and successor to the frigates' manufacturer, over the point of who is going to pay back the money.

The original kickback was paid with Elf funds, but it seems that rather in the same way as the hospitality given by BAE to various Saudis was booked to the final contract price, the cost was then recovered by charging it to the Taiwanese taxpayer as part of the bill for the accursed ships. Unsurprisingly, the current Taiwanese government is not happy about this and has demanded a refund from Thales of the $600 million bribe.

(Pause to gasp at the sheer magnitude of the bung.)

Article 18 of the contract between the French and Taiwanese governments, Thomson-CSF and the DCN explicitly states that no intermediaries could be paid without rendering the deal void. Unsurprisingly, when Taiwan invoked an arbitration clause, the Swiss courts gave them best. It seems that ticklish talks have been going on between the parties to the case because the French government is trying not to get stuck with the bill. (The ships were built, after all, in the state shipyards of the Direction des Constructions Navales.) Still less does Thales itself want to face a half-billion cash call surrounded by the worst possible publicity.

Even more interestingly, the go-between in these discussions is exactly the same man, Andrew Wang, who distributed the original sums to Taiwanese and probably also French men of power, and fled Taiwan after the mysterious death of a naval officer involved in the case. Part of the mission given by Thales boss Jean-Paul Perrier to former exec Jean-Claude Desjeux, his contact with Wang, seems to have been to keep him from spilling whatever further beans there may be. This, of course, put him in a strong position: the deal appears to be that 55% of the bill will be paid by the DCN and hence the State, 30% by Thales, and some 15% by Mr. Wang personally. After all, he is reported by Le Monde to have personally received in the region of $500 million, so he really ought to contribute something. That suggests that French taxpayers will be in the hole by $275 million to pay off their servants' bagmen.

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