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Smuggled passenger reveals possible ASF loophole

2019/01/20 17:44:06

Taipei, Jan. 20 (CNA) A man who turned himself in to police Sunday after he was allegedly smuggled to Taiwan from China by boat in late 2018 revealed that the vessel was also carrying meat products, including sausage and pork jerky.

His revelation reveals a loophole in the government's efforts to effectively prevent African swine fever (ASF) from entering Taiwan, New Taipei police said.

The 46-year-old man, surnamed Lee, said he was detained for 67 days in China's Guangdong Province from October for allegedly violating China's conflict of interest provisions.

He was later released pending trial and paid NT$1.5 million (US$48,578) to be smuggled to Taiwan's Penghu Island before taking a flight to Taiwan proper.

According to Lee, he saw that other passengers on the boat were carrying sausage, pork jerky, bread with pork floss and other meat products, which made him worry that ASF could spread to Taiwan. He therefore sent a warning message on social media and turned himself in to police.

Lee said that he was completely unaware of any ASF information, as new reports regarding the highly contagious viral pig disease have been blocked in China.

However, after he returned to Taiwan, he began realizing the severity of the ASF threat, Lee added.

Lee was referred to the New Taipei District Prosecutors Office for investigation.

New Taipei police also submitted the information about Lee's case to the New Taipei City government, the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) and the National Immigration Agency (NIA).

The CGA said that a special task force within the agency is investigating the case and that the agency will ask Lee to help identify the people concerned, including the other passengers, along with the brokers who arranged the passage and the boat owner.

The CGA said it has stepped up coastal patrols and has intensified inspections of suspicious fishing boats entering and exiting the country's major harbors, as part of efforts to crack down on smuggling and prevent ASF from entering Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the NIA said Lee could face punishment for violating the Immigration Act.

Over the past three days, a total of 669 cases of travelers attempting to bring meat products into Taiwan have been caught, Interior Minister Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said Saturday.

Should the ASF virus enter Taiwan, it could cause NT$200 billion in losses per year for the pig industry, Hsu said.

In related news, a pig carcass found on a beach on an uninhabited island near Lienchiang County's Matsu close to China last Thursday has tested positive for ASF, the ASF Central Epidemic Command Center said Saturday.

It is likely that the dead hog had drifted in from China, according to the center.

So far, 25 provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities and special administrative regions in China have been affected by the disease, according to China's Ministry of Agriculture.

(By Wang Hung-kuo, Yu Hsiao-han, Wang Cheng-chung and Evelyn Kao)