Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 1 News List

US helping Taiwan find Rebar fugitives

LONG ARM?The Rebar Group chairman and his wife are believed to be in the US, and Taiwanese officials have been in contact with US officials in an effort to capture them

By Rich Chang, Nadia Tsao, Jimmy Chuang and Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN TAIPEI AND WASHINGTON , WITH AGENCIES IN TAIPEI AND BEIJING

Taiwan is working with the US in an effort to apprehend a fugitive tycoon and his wife, officials from both countries confirmed yesterday, while China brushed off allegations that it had not done enough to help catch the couple.

Taipei District Prosecutors' Office spokesman Lin Jinn-tsun (林錦村) said yesterday that prosecutors had formally requested US assistance in apprehending Rebar Asia Pacific Group (力霸亞太企業集團) chairman Wang You-theng (王又曾) and his wife, Chin She-ying (王金世英), in accordance with the Taiwan-US Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement.

He said prosecutors had requested US officials assist in investigating whether the Wang family had assets in that country, and would request US officials freeze any assets that were discovered.

The official said that the agreement signed with the US in March 2002 gave both parties certain rights. These include allowing witness statements to be gathered in each other's territory, permitting the delivery of legal documents, allowing for the identification and location of individuals in relation to criminal investigations, and permitting the seizing of a suspect's assets.

Lin said the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office might send prosecutors to the US to coordinate an investigation in accordance with the agreement.

However, the agreement does not cover the extradition of suspects or convicted criminals, Lin said.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) officials in the US confirmed that Taiwan's de facto embassy in Washington had provided information about the ongoing investigation into the Rebar Group financial scandal and its fugitive chairman to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).

In turn, AIT had passed the information against the Wangs on to US law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security.

An AIT official in Taipei, Lawrence Walker, said Taiwanese officials had been in touch with their counterparts in the US about the fugitives.

"Taiwan's law enforcement has been in touch with its US counterpart," Walker said.

Still, officials were cautious, saying that relying on US assistance is problematic in practice, the officials said.

Taiwanese diplomats are cautioning that although they have asked for assistance in locating the couple now that they are in the US, the situation is complicated because the Wangs have not commited any crimes in the US and Chin holds a US passport.

The couple fled to China more than two weeks ago, after two of the Rebar Group's listed units filed for bankruptcy after years of mounting debts and heavy losses.

Depositors reacted by racing to withdraw funds from a bank owned by the group, from which Wang was accused of stealing millions of dollars, leading to a government takeover.

Media have reported that the couple flew to San Francisco after staying several days in Shanghai. As Wang does not have a US passport, it is possible he could be deported on technical grounds, such as visa irregularities.

Taiwanese diplomats in the US confirmed that they believed the Wangs entered the US in San Francisco, but added that they do not know where the couple is now.

The financial scandal and the flight of the wealthy couple has had repercussions for cross-strait relations as well.

When the couple was tracked to China, Taiwanese politicians -- in a rare show of unity -- angrily called on Beijing to send the fugitives back to Taiwan.

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