By Aaron Tu, Lu Kuan-cheng and Jake Chung / Staff reporters, with staff writer
The Ministry of National Defense yesterday said an ultimatum to Ching Fu Shipbuilding Co （慶富造船） to pay its debt in time or face termination of its minesweeper contract still stands, regardless of reports about a billionaire “patriotic citizen” being willing to take over a scandal-plagued project.
Ching Fu founder and president Chen Ching-nan （陳慶南） was quoted by the Chinese-language Liberty Times （the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times） as saying that he was mulling selling two-thirds of the company’s stock to the unidentified billionaire.
Chen was quoted as saying that the billionaire expressed concern that the government’s indigenous shipbuilding program would suffer from the Ching Fu scandal and wanted to establish a professional team to take over the minesweeper project to ensure the success of the nation’s defense industry.
Chen at noon yesterday met with the mysterious billionaire, Liberty Times sources said, adding that whether the two would be able to sign a memorandum of understanding was crucial to the company being able to retain the contract.
As US defense giant Lockheed Martin, a subcontractor for the project, has already acquired an export permit from Italy’s Intermarine, the minesweeper project would be able to proceed if the deal goes through, Chen was quoted as saying.
Should the unnamed investor back out, Chen said he has considered bequeathing two-thirds of the company’s stock to the government, provided it would be willing to accept the arrangement.
However, the ministry stood by its statement last month, saying that the contract would be terminated unless Ching Fu pays back NT$2.4 billion （US$79.9 million） by today and lays out a plan to overcome delays to scheduled work.
The ministry declined to comment on the mystery billionaire.
The bottom line on Ching Fu is that it must make up for lost time and pay back its debts within the alloted time, the ministry said.
Additional reporting by Huang Liang-chieh
Ching Fu Shipbuilding Co founder and president Chen Ching-nan poses for a photograph in Kaohsiung yesterday. Photo: Huang Liang-chieh, Taipei Times