CAL’s possible role in cigarette smuggling to be probed: minister

Taipei, Transportation Minister Lin Chialung said Tuesday that an investigation will conducted into China Airlines' (CAL's) role in a cigarette smuggling scandal allegedly involving National Security Bureau (NSB) officials.

Yesterday, I asked CAL to start an administrative investigation and cooperate with prosecutors in the case to determine whether there was any negligence on the part of the airline, Lin said.

He said the investigation will not be limited to the current case, which was uncovered Monday, but rather will examine whether the smuggling had been going on for a while.

Lin was referring to a case in which two NSB agents were taken into custody Tuesday for allegedly smuggling 9,800 cartons of cigarettes, worth NT$6 million (US$191,418), into Taiwan under the cover of President Tsai Ingwen's return the previous day from an overseas trip.

One of the two agents arrested was a member of Tsai's security detail during the trip, authorities have confirmed.

During Tsai's 12day visit to the United States and Taiwan's four Caribbean allies, she and her delegation flew on a dedicated CAL plane.

Opposition New Power Party Legislator Huang Kuochang who revealed the smuggling scandal, has claimed that some CAL employees were also involved.

Huang said one of Tsai's security agents had purchased the cigarettes duty free before he left, via a CAL employee, and had them put into storage until he returned.

It is common practice for Taiwanese travelers to order duty free items before leaving Taiwan and pick them up upon their return. But questions have been raised over how it was possible for the security agent to order such a large quantity of cigarettes, given that travelers entering Taiwan are limited to only one carton of cigarettes duty free.

Passengers who bring in more than that amount and fail to declare them may be fined NT$10,000 (US$322) for each carton of undeclared cigarettes, according to the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act.

Huang said the security agent had placed the order for the cigarettes July 8, three days before Tsai embarked on the trip, and had them put into in storage at an airport warehouse owned by China Pacific Catering Services Ltd., an affiliate of CAL.

At 12:20 p.m. Monday, shortly before Tsai's flight landed at Taoyuan International Airport, the cigarettes were removed and loaded onto five government vehicles, which later attempted to leave the airport as part of Tsai's motorcade, Customs Administration said in statement.

Acting on a tipoff, customs officers intercepted the vehicles in the airport's rapid clearance lane at 1:25 p.m., according to the statement.

In response to reporters' questions, a CAL spokesman said the airline had assisted the passengers who had traveled on the presidential plane, which was a special charter flight, to buy duty free products and was unaware of any illegal activities in the process.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel