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Corruption in Taiwan: The French connection

The latest about the biggest scandal you've never heard of.

France followed up with its own probe, which at one point ensnared current president Nicolas Sarkozy. But documents that supposedly implicated Sarkozy in accepting bribes for the Lafayette deal were later ruled to be fakes.

In 2008 a French judge halted the probe, citing a lack of evidence. The French government has refused to release documents related to the case on grounds of national security.

Hong Kong Baptist University's Cabestan said classified documents are believed to list prominent French politicians on both the right and left who took bribes in the Lafayette deal, and possibly high-ranking Chinese officials as well. All received payouts in exchange for allowing the sensitive sale to proceed (China sees Taiwan as part of its territory and angrily objects to any arms sale to the island).

That secret list is a ticking time bomb in French politics, said Cabestan. "That's what the French public is most interested in, and what French politicians are most worried about," he said.

"Every time a new defense minister comes in there's an attempt by the judiciary and courts to get access to the list," said Cabestan. "But then the new minister looks at the list, and realizes it’s a bombshell. And so it remains classified."

"I think it will remain classified for many years, until these people are dead or retired," he said.

Now, some in Taiwan want to probe possible kickbacks as part of a multi-billion deal selling French-made Mirage fighter jets to Taiwan in 1992. The same middleman, fugitive Andrew Wang, is suspected of accepting kickbacks in that sale, too.

France promised China in 1994 that it would stop selling weapons to Taiwan. That leaves the United States as the island's sole major arms supplier.

Defense News' Minnick said the Lafayette scandal "reshaped the way Taiwan conducts arms deals" and made the island dependent on slower, pricier purchases through the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The U.S. angered Beijing in January by approving $6.4 billion in defensive weaponry to Taiwan, but Washington has not yet responded to Taiwan's request for more than 60 advanced F-16 warplanes. 

Relations between China and Taiwan have improved considerably in the last two years, but Taiwan still faces a rising military threat from the People's Liberation Army, according to Taiwan's defense ministry and the Pentagon.