Taipei, July 25 (CNA) China Airlines (CAL) Chairman Hsieh Shih-chien (謝世謙) apologized to the public on Thursday over a recent case of attempted cigarette smuggling allegedly by government security agents, one of whom had traveled on a presidential flight operated by CAL.
At a press event, Hsieh said that for the past 20 years, CAL has been providing dedicated charter flights for overseas travel by the president of Taiwan and has been facilitating the purchase of duty-free products, including cigarettes, by passengers on those flights.
In an effort to provide high quality service, CAL has been allowing passengers on presidential charter flights to pre-order tax-free products, without limiting them to one carton of cigarettes per person, he said.
As a result, a total of 10,009 cartons of cigarettes were sold to passengers traveling with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on her recent visit to the United States and the Caribbean, Hsieh said.
Of the 10,009 cartons, 9,274 were pre-ordered online, while the others were bought during the flight, he said.
To prevent incidents of smuggling in the future, passengers traveling on dedicated presidential flights will be limited to one carton of cigarettes, like travelers on regular flights, and CAL will not allow pre-ordering, Hsieh said.
He apologized to the public for the scandal that erupted Monday after Tsai's charter flight landed around noon at Taoyuan International Airport following her 12-day visit to the U.S. and Taiwan's four diplomatic allies in the Caribbean.
Acting on a tip-off, customs officers at 1:25 p.m. Monday intercepted five government vehicles that were in the airport's rapid clearance lane, carrying more than 9,000 cartons of cigarettes.
According to Taiwan authorities, the cigarettes had been ordered online three days before the departure of Tsai's flight on July 11 and had been put into storage in an airport warehouse owned by China Pacific Catering Services Ltd., an affiliate of CAL.
Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲), who had traveled with the president as part of her security detail, and another National Security Bureau agent Chang Heng-chia (張恒嘉) were arrested late Monday on suspicion of attempted cigarette smuggling and are currently being held incommunicado.
Meanwhile, prosecutors on Thursday morning summoned and questioned a CAL employee, who is responsible for the sale of duty-free products, and later released him on bail of NT$200,000.
At the press event Thursday, Hsieh said his company would not punish the employees responsible for making the sales, since they had only been following precedent.
He apologized also for the chaos caused by the airline's policy in that regard and said he would take full responsibility for the fallout.
Since 2014, CAL has operated 10 dedicated presidential flights on which the passengers have purchased a total of 35,000 cartons of cigarettes, according a statement issued by the airline.
Deputy Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) has called on CAL to release its records on fax-free products purchased on presidential flights prior to 2014, but the airline said its records for that period have been deleted and it would be difficult to recover them.