Taiwan prosecutors question 7 suspects on blasts

Taiwan prosecutors question 7 suspects on blasts
(Bottom right) A person is seen lying on the ground after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, August 1, 2014. Gas leaks in the sewage system in the city led to multiple explosions late Thursday night, resulted in two dead and more than one hundred injured, according to local media.

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Kaohsiung District Prosecutors' Office (KDPO) yesterday summoned seven suspects in the high-profile Kaohsiung gas explosions case for questioning.

The KDPO recently assigned an additional 11 investigators to the case, and on Aug 8, investigators and petrochemical experts headed to facilities belonging to LCY Chemical Corp. (李長榮化工) and China General Terminal & Distribution Corporation (CGTD, 華運) to find out more about the companies' operations on the day of the deadly accident.

Between late Jul 31 and early Aug 1, a series of devastating gas explosions ripped apart several streets in the southern port city, resulting in 30 people dead - several of whom were firefighters - and more than 300 injured. Investigators believe that the blasts were caused by a gas leak from a propene-carrying pipe with a 28-square-centimeter hole in it.

In their investigations, prosecutors discovered that the companies may have strayed from protocol when transporting propene through the pipeline in question.

A total of seven individuals - four LCY employees and three from CGTD - were summoned for questioning as suspects. According to local reports, the seven are suspected specifically of committing offences against public safety.

After questioning, bail was set at NT$2 million (S$83,200) for LCY division head Tsai Yung-chien (蔡永堅), NT$1.5 million for LCY engineer Shen Ming-hsiu (沈銘修) and NT$1 million for LCY operator Huang Chin-ming (黃進銘).

Closer Examination of Pipe and Culvert

Upon prosecutors' request, the pipe and the culvert beneath the intersection of Ersheng Rd. (二聖路) and Kaixuan Rd. (凱旋路) were excavated for closer examination, in order to determine whether city officials were involved in graft or if they had made false entries in relevant documents.

The KDPO said that the purpose of excavating the culvert and the pipe is to find out which was built first and whether city officials responsible for the construction had broken the law.

Prosecutors stressed that pipelines are not supposed to be in culverts. It is believed that the pipeline's exposure to air may have caused the rupture and magnified the degree of the blasts by allowing the gas to travel further.

Investigators also requested that a section of the pipeline laid in the soil 2 meters away from the culvert be cut out in order to compare differences in oxidization and corrosion and to see whether LCY had been negligent in the pipeline's maintenance.

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