Taiwan’s China Airlines apologizes for cigarette smuggling scandal

CAL manager in charge of duty-free products released on bail

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China Airlines Chairman Hsieh Shih-chien (left) apologizes for the cigarette smuggling scandal Thursday July 25.

China Airlines Chairman Hsieh Shih-chien (left) apologizes for the cigarette smuggling scandal Thursday July 25. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The chairman of Taiwan’s biggest carrier, China Airlines (CAL), apologized Thursday (July 25) for the cigarette smuggling scandal which has affected the company, the nation’s top intelligence agency, and the Presidential Office.

At the same time, an airline staff member responsible for duty-free products was freed on bail following questioning by investigators, reports said.

The scandal exploded last Monday (July 22), within hours of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) return from a successful visit to four Caribbean allies and two stopovers in the United States.

Two officers of the National Security Bureau (NSB) were alleged to have brought 9,800 cartons of cigarettes duty-free into the country using the president’s arrival as cover. Later investigations alleged that the practice had been going on since at least 2014 under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Following angry complaints from the Ministry of Transportation, CAL Chairman Hsieh Shih-chien (謝世謙) appeared at a news conference Thursday afternoon to offer his apologies for the scandal.

He also promised that in future, special flights would be subject to the same regulations for duty-free products as scheduled flights, the Central News Agency reported.

The airline chairman also revealed that on the most recent presidential flight, a total of 10,009 cigarettes cartons had been sold, of which 9,274 had been ordered beforehand and of which 735 were sold on board. But since all transactions had been made on board, they counted as overseas sales, Hsieh added.

He rejected allegations that high-level managers at the airline had been involved in the dealings, according to CNA.

The list presented by the airline showed that since Ma’s time in office, more than 8,500 cartons had been sold during CAL presidential flights, while under Tsai, a total of about 26,000 had changed hands.

Later Thursday, media reported that a CAL official in charge of duty-free purchases had been released on a NT$200,000 (US$6,400) bail following questioning by prosecutors. The two NSB officers at the heart of the scandal were ordered to be held incommunicado earlier in the week.

One of them reportedly told investigators that he had ordered the cigarettes from the CAL official.