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10 investigated for smuggling NT$6.45 million in cigarettes under cover of presidential trip

10 investigated for driving 5 vehicles in presidential motorcade with smuggled cigarettes onboard

Wu (center).

Wu (center). (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A total of 10 persons are now under investigation after news broke on Monday (July 22) that National Security Bureau (NSB) agents tried to smuggle 9,800 cartons of cigarettes into Taiwan using President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) flight back from a Caribbean trip as a cover.

The New Taipei City Investigation Bureau officers have questioned 10 people over the incident, including an NSB agent surnamed Wu (吳), and transferred them to the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office for further investigation, reported CNA. Wu and another prime suspect surnamed Chang (張) are being held in custody while eight other suspects were released on bail.

The Prosecutor's Office said that the two suspects being detained are being charged with violating the Anti-Corruption Act (貪污治罪條例) for shipping prohibited items by public transport and evading taxes. For these crimes, the accused face penalties of life imprisonment or fixed-term imprisonment of more than 10 years, and fine of up to NT$100 million, according to the report.

According to prosecutors, Wu's and Chang's statements conflict with each other, and whether they are accomplices remains to be clarified. With Wu and Chang being investigated for serious crimes involving corruption, and due to the risk of colluding with accomplices or witnesses, prosecutors asked that the two be kept in custody.

The whole case started when the NSB was informed that a large number of cigarettes would be smuggled into the country by NSB personnel. They were told that rogue NSB agents were planning on taking advantage of the president's trip to smuggle contraband past customs agents.

10 investigated for smuggling NT$6.45 million in cigarettes under cover of presidential trip
Suspect being taken in for questioning. (CNA photo)

At 1:25 p.m. on Sunday, Customs officers intercepted five vehicles pretending to be part of the presidential motorcade as they tried to leave the airport through a special passage. Officers took the vehicles directly to a Taipei Customs Office warehouse.

According to the Customs Administration, officers found 9,200 cartons of cigarettes had been smuggled by NSB personnel inside the vehicles, with a market value over NT$6.45 million (US$207,000). Customs officials said that an additional 600 cigarettes were found hidden in luggage inside the presidential jet, bringing the total of smuggled cigarettes to 9,800 cartons, reported Liberty Times.

The scandal broke when opposition New Power Party lawmaker Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) wrote on his Facebook page that an NSB agent had tried to smuggle 9,200 cartons of cigarettes past customs as President Tsai was arriving back into the country from a four-nation trip to the Caribbean Monday morning.

Customs confirmed his story and said the tobacco products had all been seized and moved to a warehouse. The main suspect, Wu, had reportedly used an official at China Air Lines (CAL) to buy the cigarettes duty-free at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and store them at an airline catering company property awaiting Tsai’s return.

Later media reports suggested that this had been Wu’s third similar operation using the president’s overseas voyages. President Tsai was reported to be furious about the incident and asked for a judicial investigation of the case.

On Monday, NSB Director General Peng Sheng-chu (彭勝竹) officially resigned from his post after news of the smuggling scandal broke. The officer in charge of presidential bodyguards, Chang Chieh (張捷), had reportedly asked to be disciplined and was awaiting a decision on his transfer to another function.

Updated : 2021-09-21 10:40 GMT+08:00