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NSB agents held for smuggling cigarettes under cover of Tsai's trip

2019/07/23 15:27:09

Taipei, July 23 (CNA) Two National Security Bureau (NSB) agents were taken into custody Tuesday after allegedly smuggling 9,800 cartons of cigarettes worth NT$6 million (US$191,418) into Taiwan under cover of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文)'s recent trip overseas.

The Taipei District Prosecutors Office said the two officials, surnamed Wu (吳) and Chang (張), are being held for suspected violations of the Anti-Corruption Act.

Prosecutors have filed a motion with the Taipei District Court to formally detain the two and hold them incommunicado because they are afraid Wu and Chang might influence the testimony of others, the office said.

National Security Bureau agent Wu is brought in for questioning

The court is expected to rule on the request later Tuesday.

According to a statement released by the Customs Administration Monday, Wu tried to take advantage of the rapid clearance treatment given government officials accompanying Tsai on her overseas trip to smuggle the cigarettes into Taiwan after the delegation returned home.

The cigarettes were never in the presidential plane but instead kept in a warehouse at Taoyuan International Airport belonging to China Airlines-affiliated China Pacific Catering Services Ltd. during Tsai's trip, the statement said.

Tsai flew a China Airlines plane during her 12-day visit to the United States and Taiwan's four Caribbean allies.

At 12:20 p.m. Monday, shortly before Tsai's airplane landed, the cigarettes were removed by five official vehicles, which later followed Tsai's motorcade and attempted to leave the airport, it said.

Acting on a tip-off, customs officers intercepted the vehicles on the airport's rapid clearance lane at 1:25 p.m., according to the statement.

The New Taipei office of the Investigation Bureau brought in 10 people for questioning later Monday, including Wu, Chang, another NSB official surnamed Liu (劉), five drivers and two other people allegedly involved in the case, according to the Customs Administration.

Wu and Chang were taken into custody early Tuesday, while the others were released on bail, the Taipei District Prosecutors Office told CNA.

The alleged scandal was first made public by opposition New Power Party Legislator Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) in a Facebook post earlier Monday.

Huang said that Wu, who accompanied Tsai on her trip, ordered the cigarettes duty free through an acquaintance who works at China Airlines before leaving, for them to be stored until he got back.

It is common practice for Taiwanese travelers to order duty free items before leaving Taiwan and pick them up upon their return.

But questions have been raised over how it was possible for Wu to order such a big quantity of cigarettes given that passengers are limited to bringing in only one carton of cigarettes to Taiwan duty free.

Passengers who bring in more than that amount and fail to declare them can be fined NT$10,000 for each carton of undeclared cigarettes, according to the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act.

The cigarettes, including 4,400 cartons of Mevius Original Blue, 1,900 cartons of Movies Sky Blue, 1,200 cartons of Mi-Ne Original, and 650 cartons of Davidoff Gold, have been moved to the main customs warehouse in Taipei, the Customs Administration said.

China Airlines has denied any involvement.

Under the Anti-Corruption Act, public officials who breach its provisions can be fined up to NT$100 million or face jail sentences of no less than 10 years up to life imprisonment.

(By Hsiao Po-wen, Lin Chang-shun and Chung Yu-chen)
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