Updated: 04/17/2014 01:52 | By Agence France-Presse

Taiwan court upholds ex-captain's sentence in French frigate case

A Taiwanese court Wednesday rejected an appeal by a former navy captain who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption in a controversial deal to buy French frigates two decades ago.

Taiwan court upholds ex-captain's sentence in French frigate case

This photo taken on January 26, 2010 shows two French made Lafayette class frigates at the Tsaoying naval base in southern Kaohsiung - by Sam Yeh

The supreme court upheld a ruling in which Kuo Li-heng was sentenced to jail and fined Tw$200 million ($6.67 million) for accepting $17 million in bribes to facilitate the arms sale in 1991.

The court ruled that Kuo -- then working for the navy's submarine building project -- was an accomplice of Taiwanese arms dealer Andrew Wang, who solicited and received around $340 million in kickbacks from French defence company Thomson-CSF. It ordered the pair to return the ill-gotten money. 

The case stems from a 1991 deal struck by Taiwan to buy six French-made Lafayette-class frigates for $2.8 billion -- a deal that strained French ties with China at the time. 

A French judicial probe opened in 2001 to investigate claims that much of the money paid by Taiwan went towards commissions to middlemen, politicians and military officers on the island as well as in China and France. 

Taiwan's highest anti-graft body concluded in the same year that as much as $400 million in bribes may have been paid throughout the course of the deal. 

Allegations of backhanders emerged after the body of the officer who ran the Taiwanese navy's weapons acquisitions office was found floating in the sea off the island's east coast in 1993. 

Swiss courts later discovered $520 million in bank accounts held by Wang, who is the main suspect in the case but remains at large.

Kuo was originally sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal in connection with the frigate deal and two other cases. 

He received a reduced 20-year sentence in August 2013 and was released late last year after serving the term.  

Prosecutors said Kuo does not have to return to prison due to a maximum 20-year jail term for an offence not punishable by life imprisonment under Taiwan's old criminal code at the time of his crime.

He still has to pay the fine and is barred from leaving Taiwan.

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