Company chairman detained over Taiwan oil scandal

Company chairman detained over Taiwan oil scandal

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The boss of a company whose tainted oils have triggered one of the biggest food product recalls ever in Taiwan was detained yesterday, with the Pingtung District Court ordering Yeh Wen-hsiang, chairman of Chang Guann Co., be detained to prevent him from possibly colluding with witnesses and other suspects, destroying evidence and fleeing the country, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, Premier Jiang Yi-huah revealed that Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta had offered to resign over the oil scandal on Wednesday, but that he would not make any personnel adjustments at present.

Yeh's detention on alleged fraud and violations of the food safety law came after a two-hour debate between the prosecutors and the suspect's attorney early in the morning.

The Chang Guann chief, who has maintained his innocence, had been able to walk free for more than a week after the scandal erupted, as prosecutors had listed him as a witness until Friday when they determined that he had played an active part in making the tainted products.

Prosecutors re-listed Yeh as a suspect and sought court approval for his detention after cross-examining him and another chief suspect, Kuo Lieh-cheng, who allegedly supplied Chang Guann with inedible oil.

Yeh reportedly told the prosecutors during cross-examination that it was Chang Guann's deputy general manager, Tai Chi-chuan, who had been responsible for material purchases and that he had no idea he was obtaining the tainted oils from Kuo.

The snowballing scandal has triggered calls from opposition lawmakers for the head of the health minister over his failure to oversee food safety.

Despite the premier's revelation that the health minister had offered to resign, Chiu was cited by his aides as saying that he has been fully devoted to handling the scandal and has no time to contemplate his own future.

Chiu said he will not evade his fair share of the blame, according to the aides.

Premier Jiang said it is not the right time to talk about personnel adjustments, as the scandal has yet to subside.

Investigators still need to determine the sources of the tainted oil, the whereabouts of finished products and the extent of the impact on the food industry, said the premier, who made an apology to the nation over the scandal Friday during a meeting at the Legislature.

He said the most important thing at present is to recall all tainted products and ease consumers' fears, followed by reforms to the food safety control network.

Since the scandal broke, more than 1,000 eateries and food companies, including big brands such as Wei Chuan and Vedan, have been forced to recall products made from Chang Guann's lard oil.

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