Taipei, Jan. 9 (CNA) An opposition Kuomintang (KMT) official accused of involvement in an alleged plot to have a self-professed Chinese defector retract his claims about spying for China on Thursday held a press conference to try to clarify his role in events, just two days before Taiwan's presidential and legislative elections.
In a report published Wednesday by Australian newspaper The Age, Alex Tsai (蔡正元), deputy secretary-general of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang (KMT), was said to have tried to induce self-confessed Chinese spy Wang Liqiang (王立強) to retract claims he assisted Beijing in influencing Taiwan's elections.
In the report, the newspaper cited anonymous sources with knowledge of events as saying that Wang received messages on Christmas Eve and the days after, asking him to record and release a video saying that Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has bribed him to lie.
Wang was told that his family would be spared punishment and his debts be repaid if he gave a public statement retracting his previous claims of spying for China, according to the report.
The report alleged that the messages sent to Wang were coordinated by Tsai and a Chinese businessman surnamed Sun (孫).
The allegation came just two days before people in Taiwan head to the polls to vote in presidential and legislative elections, with some believing the revelations have the potential to damage the KMT at the polls.
In November, The Age, owned by Australia's Nine Entertainment Co., broke the story that Wang had told Australia's counter-espionage agency how he helped Beijing build a "cyber army" to meddle in Taiwan's local government elections in November 2018.
Wang also alleged that Beijing has invested in and built alliances with Taiwanese media companies to influence coverage of Taiwan's politics. He said his operation had backed KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), according to the report.
In response to the latest allegations, Tsai called a press conference in Taipei on Thursday, at which he denied he made any threats to Wang.
In an effort to rebut the report by the Age, Tsai played a recording of what he said was a video call between him and Wang, and an audio recording of what appeared to be a phone interview between a reporter from the Age and Chinese businessman Sun Tianqun (孫天群), who was named in the Age's report.
In the video call between Tsai and Wang, Tsai urged Wang for details of how the DPP bribed him to make false claims, but in the video, Wang did not say whether he was paid by the DPP.
Meanwhile, in the audio recording, Sun tells the reporter that Wang was paid by the DPP.
Tsai said he did not previously know Sun, but Sun reached out to him for help through a mutual friend after Sun's friend, China Innovation Investment Ltd. CEO Xiang Xin (向心), was barred from leaving Taiwan in the aftermath of the Wang Liqiang case.
Xiang and his wife were questioned by Taiwan authorities and barred from leaving Taiwan last November, after Wang alleged that Xiang's firm was helping Beijing control Taiwanese media.
Tsai said he only advised that Wang should issue a public statement clearing Xiang's name, but was not involved in Sun's talks with Wang and has no knowledge of what was discussed.
Tsai said Sun told him that Wang had been bribed by former Vice Premier and National Security Council Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) of the DPP to falsely accuse Xiang, an accusation that Chiou denied Thursday.
Meanwhile, in response to an alleged screenshot of an instant message published by the Age, that shows Tsai and Sun discussing how to deal with Wang, Tsai said the screenshot shows him typing simplified Chinese, which he claimed to not know how to do.
"Why is it in simplified Chinese? I'm highly doubtful (of its authenticity)," Tsai said.
The alleged screenshot message, the source of which remains unknown, shows Tsai asking Sun to have Wang record a video explaining how he went from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Australia, how he got in touch with Australian authorities and media, and if he had any contact with Taiwanese in Australia.
CNA obtained other alleged screenshot messages Thursday, with one showing Sun telling Wang that he was asked by the KMT to approach him.
Another shows Sun asking Tsai to send him "your promise to Wang Liqiang," to which Tsai responds by listing three promises, including China revoking Wang's status as a wanted criminal, promising that Taiwanese businesspeople would clear Wang's debts in China for him, and ensuring that China handles his criminal case "lightly."
When asked if these messages were also false, Tsai said he could not confirm the authenticity of the messages between Sun and Wang because he was not party to their talks.
Regarding the screenshot allegedly from him, Tsai first told CNA that it was false, before saying that those are "requests made by Wang" that he may have forwarded to Sun.
DPP Taipei City Councilor and spokeswoman for President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) campaign office, Chien Shu-pei (簡舒培), on Thursday called the allegation an "international scandal" and asked if the KMT and its presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu knew anything about it.
Responding to press inquiries about possible threats against Wang, a spokesperson from The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the AFP is "aware of threats made against a man currently residing in Australia."
"The AFP takes threats of this nature seriously and has commenced an investigation," the spokesperson said, declining to provide further information.
Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) confirmed Thursday that the Australian police sought to confirm Tsai's identity with Taiwan authorities in early January, but said they did not request judicial assistance.