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Pingtung government slammed for information leak

2014/10/31 21:16:27

Taipei, Oct. 31 (CNA) The Ministry of Health and Welfare on Friday criticized the Pingtung County government for leaking a confidential document on an edible oil scandal investigation to the main target of the probe.

"Keeping it a secret is a basic principle. If you inform the (food safety violators) in advance, what's the point of investigating?" said Deputy Health Minister Hsu Ming-nung.

Hsu said tipping off the possible violator to information authorities had in hand was contrary to standard procedure and was "especially implausible because the civil servant who committed the error has served for 24 years."

Though some legislators were quick to point the finger at the ministry Friday morning after news of the leak became public, a worker in the Pingtung County Public Health Bureau later admitted to faxing it to the company under scrutiny -- Ting Hsin Oil and Fat Industrial Co. -- "inadvertently."

The document in question, sent by the ministry to the health bureau in early October, confirmed that a Vietnam-based oils and fats company had exported oil meant for use in animal feed to Ting Hsin Oil and Fat.

It also instructed Pingtung County health officials to visit the company's factory in the county to get information on its past raw material imports.

The company, a subsidiary of the Ting Hsin International Group, was under investigation for allegedly blending those substandard oils imported from Vietnam into edible oils it produced and marketed in Taiwan.

At a news conference Friday, Tsai Ching-jung, a technical specialist with the Pingtung County government, said the "confidential" document was "inadvertently" sent to Ting Hsin along with other documents.

Tsai said that after she received the directive from the ministry, she contacted the head of Ting Hsin Oil and Fat's Pingtung plant, Tseng Chi-ming, and asked him to prepare related information.

When she faxed him information on what was required, she mistakenly included the document in question, Tsai said.

The beleaguered civil servant, who was listed Friday as a defendant in the information leak case, urged prosecutors to check the phone conversations she had to prove that she was not feeding Ting Hsin confidential information on the case.

She also defended herself by saying that the document was marked "highly" important but not "confidential."

Though the document was issued earlier this month, the leak did not become public until Thursday when it was used by Changhua County prosecutors in a court hearing on whether or not to keep the company's former chairman, Wei Ying-chung, in custody.

Prosecutors told the court that they also received a copy of the confidential document on Oct. 9, only to find the identical document during an Oct. 16 raid of the headquarters of Wei Chuan Foods Corp., the main food brand of the Ting Hsin Group that Wei also chaired.

Prosecutors argued that the defendant's ability to obtain a confidential government document so quickly showed his incredible influence, and they said Wei would very likely collude with others to destroy evidence if he were released.

The Changhua District Court granted the prosecutors' request to keep Wei in custody, in part because of the document leak.

Wei was indicted on Thursday for his role in the edible oil scandal as the former chairman of Ting Hsin Oil and Fat, Wei Chuan and another Ting Hsin Group subsidiary, Cheng I Food Co.

Prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to 30 years in jail.

Legislators across party lines, meanwhile, lashed out at the information leak.

Legislator Alex Fai of the Kuomintang said Pingtung County Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung should shoulder political responsibility for the mistake and step down.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen also said the Pingtung County government should take legal and political responsibility for the leak.

(By Chen Ching-fang, Kuo Chu-chen and Lilian Wu)