TAIPEI: A total of 13 agents of the National Security Bureau (NSB) and managers at China Airlines (CAL) were charged Friday (August 23) for their part in the smuggling of cigarettes involving President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) recent foreign trip.
On July 22, the day Tsai returned home from a highly successful trip to the Caribbean with stopovers in the United States, it came to light that two NSB agents had used her flight as cover for a smuggling operation involving about 10,000 cartons of cigarettes. Later investigations showed similar operations had been going on since at least 2014.
The list of suspects charged with violations of anti-corruption and tax laws by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office Friday included the alleged masterminds of the smuggling, NSB officers Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲) and Chang Heng-chia (張恒嘉), who have been detained, seven other NSB and presidential guard officers, as well as CAL official Chiu Chang-hsin (邱彰信), a brother of Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩), and three of his department staff.
At least six other suspects, including civilians who had ordered cartons of cigarettes, received suspended indictments, while three NSB officials were not charged, the Central News Agency (CNA) reported.
Prosecutors said Wu had collected orders for 9,200 cartons and wired the money into an account at the E.Sun Bank to make it more convenient to pay with a credit card on board the flight.
Because there were too many cartons, the goods never made it onto the airplane but were stored at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport until the presidential flight’s arrival. Evaluating the need for transportation, Wu ordered two extra trucks from the Presidential Office and two from the NSB to add to the one truck already supplied for the passengers’ luggage.
However, customs officials found the 9,200 cartons and the 597 bought on board. The total value of duty evaded on the cigarettes amounted to more than NT$5.8 million (US$187,000), CNA reported.
The scandal surrounding the smuggling affair provoked the replacement of the head of the NSB as well as a thorough investigation into similar past practices under previous administrations.