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Probe starts on president's role in alleged bird flu cover-up

2012/03/15 13:28:21

Taipei, March 15 (CNA) An investigation has been launched into the roles of President Ma Ying-jeou, former Premier Wu Den-yih and former Agriculture Minister Chen Wu-hsiung in an alleged cover-up of H5N2 avian flu outbreaks in central and southern Taiwan, prosecutors said Thursday.

According to Chen Hung-ta, spokesman for the Special Investigation Division under the Supreme Prosecutors Office, the action was taken in response to a complaint filed by a group of opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators who have accused the three of dereliction of duty that led to the bird flu outbreaks.

Chen said the prosecutors will consider if the case should be combined with a related one that is currently being handled by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office based on a complaint filed in late December by independent film producer Li Hui-ren.

Li, who has shot a documentary on bird flu outbreaks at chicken farms in central and southern Taiwan since 2006, has accused Council of Agriculture (COA) officials of covering up outbreaks of the virus.

Li's allegation, however, did not receive much public attention until the COA announced March 3 Taiwan's first outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu that led to 57,500 chickens being culled in Tainan and in Changhua County.

Last week, DPP legislators again raised suspicion over a cover-up by the government, producing a recording of a Feb. 1 meeting in which Hsu Tien-lai, former head of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, was heard saying "better to wait until the boss steps down," in reference to whether the authorities should be alerted to the outbreak.

(By Liu Shih-yi and Y.F. Low)