TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – In early March, Taiwan News reported that the city of Taichung signed an agreement with a German financial consulting firm to begin exploring investment for a major deep-sea mining facility to be built over the next four years.
It turns out that project won’t be happening after all, because the German company “Hoffman Consulting” only exists on paper, and only has a single employee, Harry Hoffman. The Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) was the victim of a white collar scam perpetrated by Hoffman.
After an investigation by local media Apple Daily following the signing of the MoU on March 6 between Mayor Lin and Hoffman, it has been revealed that the company holds no patents for deep sea mining technology, and has not even been registered with the German Chamber of Commerce or any governmental body.
On the evening of March 13, the mayor of Taichung admitted to the mistake and the lack of rigorous background investigation on the part of his office. The city was planning a massive infrastructure project estimated at NT$110 billion, but had failed to do even a rudimentary check into the credentials of the company involved.
Mayor Lin has been harshly criticized for the incident, as negligent and incompetent in discharging his official duties as mayor. Hoffman reportedly contacted the city a month before he came to Taichung, claiming that the company was looking at many locations in which it could pursue the deep-sea mining project, saying that Taichung’s coast was particularly suitable, and that Taiwan was the company’s first choice for the project.
Hoffman met with Mayor Lin for the first time only three days before signing the MoU.
According to the reports, the Director of Taichung’s Economic Development Bureau, Lu Jingzhi (呂曜志) stated the MoU was only an informal agreement, insisting that no money had been spent by the city to pursue the project. The director also recognized that the city had acted impulsively without sufficient information about Hoffman and his company.
Apple Daily discovered that the registration numbers that Hoffman used for the purpose of the MoU was only a VAT identification number used for tax purposes with the European Union, and when they inquired with the European Union’s Trade offices to verify information, the company did not have any recorded registration number for Hoffman's firm.
When Apple Daily followed up and contacted “Hoffman Consulting” directly, Hoffman told them that as a private company, the registration number was not listed publicly. Hoffman provided a document purported to be a “company registration certificate” however it was discovered to be a German “business registration application form.”
The MoU signed by the Taichung city government has been nullified, and the city has pledged to be more rigorous in arranging business deals and partnerships in the future.