Taiwan oil scandal: Govt health branch leaked info to food company

Taiwan oil scandal: Govt health branch leaked info to food company
Wei Ying-chung.

It was discovered yesterday that the Pingtung Public Health Bureau was responsible for giving Wei-Chuan Food Co. (味全) a government document containing classified information revealing that the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) was already aware that the oil Wei-Chuan imported from Vietnam was tainted; the document also said the government would carry out investigations before taking any action against the company.

During a detention hearing held on Oct. 30 for former chairman of Ting Hsin Oil & Fat Industrial Co. Wei Ying-chung (魏應充), prosecutors presented a document from the MHW containing classified information that was found at Wei-Chuan's headquarters.

Prosecutors said that since Wei has enough influence within the government to obtain this kind of document, it is likely that he will try to sabotage related evidence if he is released.

The document became the conclusive evidence that enabled the judge to rule in favour of Wei's continued detention, and brought the MHW into the spotlight, with rumours swirling that the MHW was trying to help Wei and his company avoid government scrutiny.

Although the MHW yesterday morning tried to clear its name by saying that it did not send any document to Wei-Chuan, many lawmakers from across party lines still criticised the central government, requesting a more thorough explanation of the matter.

The Pingtung Public Health Bureau attempted to explain that it had "mistakenly" sent the document to Tseng Chi-ming (曾啟明), the manager of Ting Hsin's Pingtung oil factory.

The Pingtung Health Bureau admitted that the document was sent by a staff member, surnamed Tsai, who has worked in the bureau for 24 years. The bureau also stressed that instead of a classified document, it was only tagged as an important file.

The document was first sent via email from the MHW to the Pingtung County Government at 8:42 p.m. on Oct. 9, revealing that the local health bureau had been requested to investigate Ting Hsin's oil imported from Vietnam and obtain sales information from the company.

The health bureau stressed that as soon as Tsai was informed of the MHW's request, she started to print all the relevant information and contacted Tseng, asking him to provide the sales information requested by the MHW.

Tsai stated that she then sent all the appropriate forms to Tseng via fax. However, she did not notice that the MHW document was included in the files.

Responses to Document Leak

"Although it is not an actual classified document, it is a terrible mistake on the part of the administration," said Health Minister Chiang Been-huang (蔣丙煌) when asked about his opinion on the issue.

Vice Health Minister Shiu Ming-neng (許銘能) also criticised the local government, saying that keeping designated information confidential is the basic rule for government employees and administrative procedures may need to be further examined for improvements.

In addition, lawmakers from several parties said that they did not believe the Pingtung Public Health Bureau's explanation, saying that someone should take responsibility and resign over the matter.

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