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13 officials, CAL staffers indicted in cigarette smuggling scandal

2019/08/23 19:56:21

Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲)/CNA file photo

Taipei, Aug. 23 (CNA) Nine National Security Bureau (NSB) and Presidential Office officials and four China Airlines (CAL) staffers have been formally charged after trying to smuggle cigarettes in conjunction with an overseas visit by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) last month.

Of the 13 individuals involved, 11 were indicted for violating both the Anti-Corruption Act and the Tax Collection Act while the other two where only charged with violating the tax law, according to a Taipei District Prosecutors Office statement Friday.

In the indictments, prosecutors alleged that NSB security agent Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲), who traveled with the president as part of her security detail, pre-ordered 9,200 cartons from CAL's online duty-free store on July 8, three days before Tsai left on her trip to the United States and the Caribbean.

The cigarettes were then put into storage at an airport warehouse owned by China Pacific Catering Services Ltd.

Shortly after Tsai's flight home landed at Taoyuan International Airport on July 22, eight of the nine officials removed and loaded 9,800 cartons of cigarettes (including 600 ordered on board the plane) worth NT$6 million (US$191,418) on to five government vehicles.

The vehicles then attempted to leave the airport as part of Tsai's motorcade to avoid scrutiny, prosecutors alleged.

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

Under Taiwanese law, travelers can only bring one carton of cigarettes into the country duty free.

The only official not to be indicted for violating the Anti-Corruption Act was NSB security agent Lin Chih-chien (林志建), who was the only one who did not take part in loading the cigarettes onto the trucks at the Taoyuan airport, prosecutors said.

But all nine will face prosecution for trying to evade NT$5.87 million in taxes, prosecutors said.

As for CAL, three of the four staffers were indicted for violating the two laws for acting as accomplices of the officials, while one was charged only with violating the Tax Collection Act, prosecutors said.

In response to the indictments, CAL said it regretted that its employees were involved in the scandal, and reiterated that it will no longer give special treatment to passengers on presidential charter flights when they pre-order duty-free products.

Beyond the indictments filed Friday, prosecutors believe similar misconduct on presidential trips has taken place since March 2016, and they said they have launched separate investigations into those cases.

(By Lin Chang-shun and Lee Hsin-Yin)
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