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Tsai strips officials of privileged customs clearance amid scandal

2019/07/23 16:23:09

President Tsai Ing-wen

Taipei, July 23 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Tuesday ordered that government officials and her entourage returning from state visits must go through regular customs clearance, except in cases where sensitive national security matters are involved.

Tsai issued the directive in the wake of a case of cigarette smuggling allegedly involving National Security Bureau (NSB) officials, including at least one member of her security detail who returned with her Monday from her recent state visit to Taiwan's four Caribbean allies.

On Tuesday, Tsai summoned Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊) and National Security Council Secretary-General David Lee (李大維) to discuss the matter.

NSB agent caught smuggling 9,800 cartons of cigarettes Monday / photo from a private contributor

At the meeting, Tsai instructed the relevant government agencies to cooperate with the ongoing judicial investigation into the allegations and also to launch an internal administrative probe to uncover the factors behind the smuggling and how rampant it had been, according to a statement issued by the Presidential Office.

The president also ordered a thorough assessment of whether privileged customs clearance generally was being abused, the Presidential Office said.

"In the future, customs officers would be required to check the luggage of government delegations returning from overseas trips, except in cases where national security is a concern," Tsai was quoted as saying in the statement.

The incident indicates that improvement is needed, not just in the management of national security personnel, but also in terms of their discipline and efficiency, she said, according to the statement.

Late Monday, investigators arrested and questioned 10 people and later decided to detain two of them and hold them incommunicado, pending a court order, for allegedly smuggling 9,800 cartons of cigarettes, worth NT$6 million (US$191,418), into Taiwan under the cover of President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) return from her recent trip overseas.

As of press time, prosecutors had not yet obtained an order from the Taipei District Court to detain the two security agents, one of whom was confirmed to have been a member of Tsai's security detail on her 12-day visit to the United States and the Caribbean.

The other eight individuals were released on bail after questioning.

The scandal has resulted in the resignation of NSB Director-General Peng Sheng-chu (彭勝竹) and the demotion of chief aide-de-camp to the president Chang Chieh (張捷).

NSB Director-General Peng Sheng-chu who steps down Monday

At a press conference Tuesday, the legislative caucus of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) called on Tsai to apologize for the scandal, swiftly investigate the incident, and hold those culpable accountable.

"Tsai should apologize for such a massive loophole in national security and for the scandal," KMT caucus whip Tseng Ming-chung(曾銘宗) said.

If the government fails to take such action, Tseng said, he will assemble a group under the legislative Finance Committee to subpoena the relevant files and release them to the public.

KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) also called for release of the facts, an apology from President Tsai, and a complete reshuffle of the NSB.

The Financial Supervisory Commission should also follow the money to piece together the "criminal network," Lai said.

In response, Customs Administration Deputy Director General Peng Ying-wei (彭英偉), who was invited to speak at the KMT press conference, said the matter is now in the judicial system and the relevant authorities will get to the bottom of it.

The Customs Administration and the NSB will also reassess and make the necessary changes to the existing regulations on privileged customs clearance for government officials, Peng said.

(By Stacy Hsu and Liu Kuan-ting)
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