Tue, Jan 11, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan points finger at China Scud components

ARMS SMUGGLING A Taiwan company may have unwittingly become mixed up in a Chinese scheme to use Taiwan as a transshipment center for missile parts

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A Taiwan representative in the UK said yesterday that Russian-made missile parts recently discovered in cargo crates at London's Gatwick Airport, en route to Libya from Taiwan, probably originated from China.

Authorities at Gatwick discovered crates containing missile parts being shipped by Hontex, a Taiwan-based company in November, the Sunday Times newspaper reported two days ago.

The Sunday Times said British customs had seized 32 crates of missile parts, disguised as automotive components, on a British Airways flight at the airport.

Among the parts were components for the jet propulsion system of Scud missiles that could increase a missile's range to 960km.

One Taiwan official in London, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Taipei Times it was likely that China was behind the shipment.

"It is China, not Taiwan, that has Russian-made missiles. Although some media reports suggested North Korea might be the source of the seized Scud missile parts, we think it is more likely that China was behind the smuggling scheme," the official said.

"British authorities are now investigating the case, about which we knew nothing until we read about it in the Sunday Times. But the [British] press is focusing attention on the seizure's possible impact on relations between the UK and Libya, which only resumed diplomatic ties last July," the official said.

"If Taiwan was the source of the missile parts, you'd think the local press would put the spotlight on Taiwan based on clues leaked by police authorities," he said.

The Sunday Times identified Hontex as a company located in southern Tainan's Yungkang township, which it said it tried to reach by phone but only got a "recorded message in Mandarin" saying the number "was no longer in service."

"Taiwan has absolutely no connection with the missile parts seized by British authorities. The most likely scenario is that the Taiwan company identified by Sunday Times as Hontex had been used by Chinese authorities to smuggle the missile parts to Libya," the official said.

Tang A-ken (湯阿根), an attorney for Tainan-based Nanliong Enterprise (南良實業), said Hontex itself was just a brand name used by Nanliong. He also denied any connection with the shipment, in which the Scud missile parts were found.

"The Sunday Times report was right only about the location of the headquarters of Nanliong. The rest of the description about the company was totally misinformed," said Tang.

"Hontex is only a brand name used by Nanliong, which manufactures textiles. It has never exported its products to either Britain or Libya," Tang said.

"It is incredible that a company like Nanliong could be implicated as the source of the missile parts destined for Libya. We will call on the police and intelligence agencies to look into the case," Tang said.

With an annual revenue of NT$1.22 billion (US$39.87 million) in 1999, Nanliong is ranked 694th among Taiwan's top 1,000 enterprises.

Local customs authorities, meanwhile, said that if the origin of the shipment had been Taiwan, this could be confirmed by an examination of export records at the harbor.

They admitted that it was possible that documents could show the shipment could have originated in Taiwan.

If the missile parts were declared as ordinary export goods, they could have gone undetected, the officials said, as customs officers only hold spot checks for ordinary export items.

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