The Swiss government has granted judicial assistance to Taiwan over a corruption affair, rejecting an appeal by main suspect Andrew Wang.
Earlier this month the Swiss Federal Court ruled that judicial assistance could be given to Taipei since it had given assurances that the death penalty would not be invoked against Wang.
The affair involves the controversial $2.5 billion (SFr3.25 billion) sale of six frigates to Taiwan by the French former state-owned firm, Elf Aquitaine. It goes back to 1991.
It is alleged that Elf Aquitaine used kickbacks to persuade French and Taiwanese authorities to approve the sale of the warships.
These were to be sold via another French firm, Thomson-CSF, for which Wang – a former arms dealer - was the representative. Investigations began after Taiwanese authorities concluded from the inflated price that the deal constituted a serious case of international corruption.
In all, $500 million remains blocked in 46 accounts in different banks in Switzerland as part of a Swiss investigation into alleged money laundering linked to the Elf case. Authorities in Liechtenstein have frozen a further $27 million.
No violation of interests
"The [government] has denied that granting legal assistance to Chinese Taipei, France and Liechtenstein violates Switzerland's essential interests," the finance ministry said a statement on Thursday.
"It is in Switzerland's best interests that its financial centre is not used for criminal purposes and to contribute to improving the transparency of business transactions in the important financial centres."
The Federal Court had ruled earlier this month that bank documents relating to the case could be handed over to Taiwan because it had guaranteed that it would not use the death penalty against anyone convicted in the case.
In an initial ruling last year, the Lausanne-based court said that Taiwan should have the documents, but later upheld an appeal from Wang's family that previous assurances from Taiwan not to invoke the death penalty had to be strengthened.
Taipei gave these assurances and the court said it was satisfied that they were binding, enabling the transfer of the documents.
The government, which had the final word on the matter, said on Thursday that it had rejected an appeal from Wang against judicial assistance to Taiwan.
However, the statement stressed that the granting of judicial assistance did not amount to a recognition of the island of Taiwan by Switzerland.
China is notoriously sensitive to any signs of support for Taiwan's independence and some commentators have previously pointed out that the Swiss government could be placed in a difficult position if it granted assistance to Taiwan.
The government said that Swiss law permitted it to grant legal assistance to an entity other than a state, providing that entity had actual power and was in a position to fulfil all legal requirements – which was the case for Taiwan.
It cited international law that a state may grant assistance to a non-state entity without entailing recognition of the latter.
"For the [government], the granting of legal assistance to the island of Taiwan does nothing to alter its One China policy, which it has pursued consistently since 1950, and considers the People's Republic of China to be the sole representative of the Chinese state," said the statement.
swissinfo with agencies
The six warships were sold in 1991 to the Taiwanese navy by the French firm Thomson-CSF.
The deal cost Taiwan $2.5 billion.
Andrew Wang, who was a local Thomson agent in Taiwan, is suspected of having paid bribes to Taiwanese officials to secure their agreement on the deal.
$100 million was allegedly paid to the Chinese communist party to persuade them to accept the sale of the ships to the "rebel" province.