Taiwan beverage chain chief out on S$21,000 bail over tainted tea

Taiwan beverage chain chief out on S$21,000 bail over tainted tea
Black tea from Ceylon

TAIPEI - The Taipei District Prosecutors Office yesterday summoned the owner of the popular beverage chain Stornaway as a defendant in the case over the tea chain's use of tainted tea leaves, before releasing Chen Yu-huei on NT$500,000 (S$21,000) bail.

The beverage chain was busted recently for using tea leaves and rose petals containing pesticide residue.

A consumer bought a "Rose Petal Ice Tea" from a Miaoli branch in March this year.

After consuming the tea, the woman reportedly developed symptoms including dizziness and weakness in her limbs.

The woman reportedly assumed that she had caught the flu, and decided to purchase the same beverage the next day.

After developing the same symptoms, she reported the problem to the local health bureau in Miaoli.

Officials later took away samples for further testing, and found that the dried roses contained 13 kinds of pesticide residue, including four kinds of DDT: dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), carbendazim, dimethoate and cypermethrin.

After the rose petal incident, the chain reported its findings to the government yesterday. It discovered traces of pesticide in its Earl Grey, Ceylon and Darjeeling tea leaves; the tea leaves were later confiscated by the Taipei and Tainan city health departments.

Stornaway said the tea leaves and rose petals were purchased from the Taipei-based Chou Chieh Enterprise, which was searched by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office last week.

A second interrogation followed this week, and Chou Chieh owner Tseng Mu-sheng and sales manager Hsu Wei-shu were released on bail of NT$200,000 and NT$150,000, respectively.

Chen was summoned as a witness for questioning on Monday to confirm the source of the tea leaves. She was released the same day.

Chen and Hsu were questioned again yesterday afternoon, and remained silent when the media asked if they would be apologising to consumers, and whether they would be compensating franchises.

Tseng was released on an additional bail of NT$300,000 yesterday, while Chen was listed as a defendant due her substandard managerial practices.

Chen Sheds Tears Over Pesticide Scandal

All Stornaway stores were ordered to close after the Tainan Department of Health confirmed on Tuesday that the three types of tea leaves contained pesticide residue.

Chen was seen crying as she appeared before media yesterday and issued a formal apology to her customers and franchise owners, promising that the company would be finding the best way to compensate.

She read her statement from a piece of paper, and had to pause, struggling to talk through her tears.

"Because of the rose petal incident, the company will be thoroughly inspecting the goods purchased. The tea leaves we sent out for evaluation in April were found to contain more fipronil than allowed, so we decided to take the initiative and report the case to the Tainan Department of Health. We are pausing operations at our stores until the products pass future examinations," said Chen.

According to the Taichung Department of Health, another three varieties of tea were found to contain pesticide as well: jasmine green tea, oolong green tea and Assam black tea. The source was revealed to be Da-tung Tea House.

The tea house claimed that it had only been providing tea to Stornaway since 2012, a statement that will be investigated by the Taichung Department of Health. "Should the tea house continue selling its tea, it will be punished," said department officials.

The Taichung Department of Health reported yesterday that it has confiscated a total of 302 kilograms of tainted tea, which are to be tested as well.

Da-tung's suppliers were a tea company in Kaohsiung, and another in Taoyuan. Since Da-tung claimed that it was only in charge of packaging the tea, the two suppliers will be probed as well, said the Taichung Department of Health.

Should Stornaway or related tea companies in Taichung continue selling suspicious products, they may be fined from NT$30,000 to NT$3 million.

If the pesticide amount contained in the teas is found to be too high, the companies may face fines ranging from NT$60,000 to NT$200 million. The owners may even face seven years behind bars or an NT$80 million fine according to the severity of the case.

The confiscated teas - all six tainted types - have now reached 1,628.7 kilograms in volume.

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