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Chairman of edible oil company indicted, faces stiff penalty

2013/10/25 22:58:17

Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co. Chairman Kao Chen-li.

Taipei, Oct. 25 (CNA) The head of a Taiwanese company involved in a major food safety scandal was indicted Friday on eight counts of fraud, with the prosecutor seeking the confiscation of more than NT$1.8 billion (US$60 million) in illegal gains.

The Changhua District Prosecutors Office asked the court to give Kao Chen-li, chairman of Chang Chi Foodstuff in Changhua County, the maximum penalty for his alleged violation of both the Criminal Code and the Act Governing Food Sanitation.

Two of the company's workers were also indicted, although the prosecutor asked that they be given lenient treatment as they were merely following orders when they put a banned coloring agent in the company's oils and added cheaper oil to higher-priced products.

The indictment came just 10 days after police, tipped by a whistle-blower, raided the company's factory.

Chang Chi is one of Taiwan's major manufacturers of edible oils and it sells hundreds of tons of Tatung-branded olive oil, sesame oil and other cooking oils to the military, schools and households each year.

According to the prosecutor, 48 of Chang Chi's products were adulterated or outright counterfeits. They include olive oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, camellia oil and hot pepper oil, which were labeled as "pure".

In fact, the prosecutor said in the indictment, many of them contained cottonseed oil, which changed the nature of the products without the knowledge of consumers.

Cottonseed oil, if consumed regularly, is believed to cause health problems, including infertility and cancer.

In order to add color and flavor to the products, Kao also ordered his workers to add chemicals, including copper chlorophyllin, to the products, without the approval of the authorities. The substance was put in Tatung olive oil and grapeseed oil to give them a darker, and presumably purer, appearance.

Copper chlorophyllin is banned from food products and is believed to cause liver problems if taken for a long period of time.

Prosecutors, however, said it was difficult to determine the effects of such substances on consumers' health.

Nonetheless, such actions have angered Taiwan's public, as the case was the latest in a recent string of cases involving potentially unsafe ingredients being added to food products.

In the edible oils scandal, people were duped into thinking they were buying quality oil when they were actually paying for low-quality products that could potentially harm their health.

In terms of the grapeseed oil sold by the company, the prosecutor said the actual content of grapeseed oil in products labeled as pure was around 9 percent and the rest was sunflower oil.

The prosecutor asked that the court confiscate NT$1.85 billion in illegal gains Kao had made from his actions over the last seven years.

Kao was released on bail on Oct. 18 after being questioned.

(By Lin Heng-li, Chen Shu-fen and Jay Chen)