Taiwan tycoon slapped with 140 fraud charges over food safety scandal

TAIPEI - Taiwanese tycoon Wei Ying Chung was slapped with nearly 140 fraud charges on Thursday over his alleged role in Taiwan's latest food safety scare, prosecutors said.

Wei, one of Taiwan's richest men, faces a 30-year jail term if convicted as prosecutors indicted him on 60 accounts of fraud and 79 account of aggravated fraud in addition to violating food safety laws for selling tainted cooking oil.

Wei is former chairman of Wei Chuan Foods Corp. as well as Ting Hsin Oil and Fat Industrial Co., both units of food giant Ting Hsin International Group, which owns the popular Master Kong instant noodle brand. Ting Hsin group triggered public outrage and an island-wide boycott of its products after it was implicated in three food safety scandals in Taiwan in less than one year.

In the latest case that surfaced this month, Ting Hsin Oil was accused of selling oil intended for animal food, which is banned for human use, as regular lard and cooking oil causing hundreds of tonnes of products to be removed from sale.

Prosecutors also asked the court to seize around TW$440 million (S$18.5 million) of illegal gains Ting Hsin Oil allegedly made from selling the adulterated oil.

"Wei ignores the law and disregards the danger to public health and his corporate responsibility to manufacture and retail cooking oil made from feed oil to seek personal gains," prosecutors in central Changhua city said in a statement.

Wei stepped down as head of Ting Hsin Oil and Wei Chuan company amid mounting public anger before he was taken into custody on Oct 17.

Last week, the embattled tycoon was charged with fraud and food safety violations by prosecutors in Taipei over his alleged part in a food safety scare in 2013 for selling cooking oil tainted with a banned colouring agent.

Wei, together with his three brothers, are worth an estimated US$8.6 billion (S$10.9 billion), placing them in second place on Taiwan's rich list with investments in food, beverage, real estate and telecom sectors, according to Forbes magazine.