Taiwan food tycoon grilled over cooking oil scandal

TAIPEI - The head of a leading Taiwanese food company has been questioned in a widening food scandal involving several major cooking oil retailers, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Mr Wei Yin-chun is chairman of Wei Chuan Foods Corp, the Taiwanese unit of Ting Hsin International Group which owns the Master Kong instant noodle brand.

He was released on bail of TW$10 million (S$422,000) following an overnight interrogation on suspicion of fraud and violating the food safety law, prosecutors said.

Mr Wei and five company executives are being investigated after a supplier that makes Wei Chuan-brand cooking oil was accused of using adulterated oil obtained from Changchi Foodstuff Co, which is at the centre of the growing scandal.

Mr Wei has insisted that his company was unaware until recently that the oil purchased from Changchi contained the banned colouring agent copper chlorophyllin.

The Taiwanese-owned Ting Hsin International Group apologised on Tuesday after its Taiwan units were ordered to recall tens of thousands of bottles of cooking oil tainted with copper chlorophyllin.

The agent can legally be added to some processed foods, but is banned from use in cooking oil.

Ting Hsin was fined TW$3 million for failing to provide health officials with the list of adulterated oil items during their recent check of a plant.

It will face an additional fine of TW$300 million if it is found to have known beforehand that the oil from Changchi was laced with the banned agent.

Mr Wei has said that all the oil used by Master Kong to produce instant noodles in China was palm oil from Malaysia. Master Kong is the biggest instant noodle brand in China, selling hundreds of thousands of packets a year.

The Changchi food scandal surfaced last month, after it was found to have adulterated olive oil with cheap cottonseed oil and the banned colouring agent for many years.

Changchi chairman Kao Chen-li has been charged with violating the food safety law and making huge illegal profits through false labelling.