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 (
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.
China finally responded to their calls yesterday, defending itself for failing to detain the couple.
"The accusation in Taiwan that [China] has not helped to repatriate Wang is groundless," Yang Yi (楊毅), spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), told a news conference in Beijing.
Yang said that he did not know exactly when Wang had arrived in Shanghai or when he had left China.
"According to Taiwan media reports, Wang left the mainland before the arrest warrant was issued. Then is there a repatriation question here?" Yang asked, adding that Wang had legitimate travel documents to enter and exit China.
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) asked China on Sunday to return Wang to Taiwan via a third country. Taiwanese prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him on Monday.
Taiwanese officials gave China's comments short shrift.
"Wang was not put on the wanted list or a fugitive, so [China] could not deport him? I think that is merely an excuse -- and a lousy one," Cabinet Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said.
Cheng made his remarks yesterday morning in response to the TAO statement.
Cheng said that Wang's placement on the most-wanted list had nothing to do with Taiwan's request that China send him back.
The Chinese government had not helped, he said, because Wang took a lot of money to China and was planning to invest it there.
"Regarding Taiwanese white-collar criminals, whether the Chinese government ignores our requests to detain them and ship them back, I think this issue can be further discussed," Cheng said.
The spokesman asked the Chinese government to acknowledge its duty. He said many Taiwanese white-collar criminals had left their debts in Taiwan and taken their money to China in recent decades, but the Chinese government had done nothing about it.
Meanwhile, speculation was rife that the Wangs might decide to go to Alhambra, California, a heavily ethnic Chinese suburb of Los Angeles.
Alhambra is where the family's Omni Bank (
"The Rebar Group has a bank in Los Angeles, and maybe over 100 business investments in Taiwan, China, the US and Asia," one MOFA official said.
Officials could not confirm recent Chinese-language media reports that Chin recently bought a house in the San Francisco area.
Wang 's son Wang Lin-i (王令一) and brother Frank Wang (王事展), both managers of Rebar Group member companies, were arrested in Taiwan last Thursday. The two brothers and their father have been charged with violating the Securities and Exchange Law, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have barred 48 Rebar Group managers and Wang family members from traveling abroad.
Meanwhile, spokesman Lin Jinn-tsun said prosecutors yesterday interviewed 12 accountants from companies of Rebar Group, and also seized a number of accounting books from the companies.
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