Pharmaceutical firm investigated for illegal weight-loss supplements

PHOTO: Pharmaceutical firm investigated for illegal weight-loss supplements

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Taipei District Prosecutors Office yesterday said it will interrogate Lien Hui-hsin (連惠心) - Kuomintang Honorary Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) eldest daughter - to determine her role in a pharmaceutical firm that recently came under fire for producing a weight-loss supplement containing unauthorized drugs.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Juan Chao-hsiung (阮昭雄) had initially raised questions about whether Wellslim Plus+ - an over-the-counter weight-loss pill that Lien previously endorsed - contained unauthorized drugs.

Responding to the doubts, the Taipei City Department of Health (DOH) tested the pills and confirmed that the product contains cetilistat, a drug designed to treat obesity, which the Ministry of Health and Welfare has not approved for use in Taiwan, city health authorities said.

Prosecutor Huang Mou-hsin (黃謀信), who is in charge of the case, said that even though Lien claims she did not know the product contained unauthorized drugs, prosecutors would still summon her for questioning to determine her role in the company.

Juan accused Lien of being more than just a spokeswoman for the product, but also having a silent role at Geneherbs, serving as a behind-the-scenes chief executive officer.

Lien was later quoted by her lawyer Fang Wen-shuan (方文萱) as saying she did not take an "actual" position at the firm.

Lien was given a title at the company, Fang said, but only as way to help promote the company without remuneration.

She had no official duties while serving as a product spokesperson, according to Fang. Lien's attorney added that Lien did not know the product contained any questionable ingredients.

Lien resigned from her position as the product's spokesperson right after the controversy broke. Lien denied her connection to Geneherbs through Fang.

The prosecutors office yesterday searched Geneherbs (菁茵荋生物科技公司) and Wellcare Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. (云丰生技醫藥股份有限公司), the two firms that allegedly violated the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act by selling the questionable weight-loss drug.

Local health bureaus have requested that retailers remove the product from their shelves.

Huang said the prosecutors office yesterday led a raid on five locations associated with the case, including the offices of Geneherbs and Wellcare, adding that it has collected a large amount of relevant data from the two companies.

The prosecutors office will summon both companies' chairmen and managers for questioning, Huang said.

According to the Pharmaceutical Act, manufacturing or importing illegal drugs can result in a 10-year jail sentence or a fine of up to NT$10 million (S$421,000), while selling unauthorized drugs can result in a seven-year sentence or a fine of up to NT$5 million (S$210,500) .