Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Missing permits rock immigration agency

`SUSPICIOUS' Multiple-entry permits that went missing from one of the new agency's offices led managers to suspend workers suspected of colluding with human traffickers

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Just three months after its founding, the National Immigration Agency (NIA) yesterday was rocked by what the agency's deputy director said was the recent "suspicious" disappearance of sensitive documents amid speculation that human-trafficking rings have positioned moles in key posts throughout the agency.

Furious that the agency had lost 200 blank, alien multiple-entry permits from its Taipei County-based service center last week, Minister of the Interior Lee Yi-yang (李逸洋) yesterday issued two official reprimands to the agency's director Wu Chen-chi (吳振吉) and announced new stopgap measures to prevent further loss of sensitive paperwork from the agency.

"Minister Lee is infuriated by the agency's grave oversight on this matter," said a press release issued by the ministry, adding that the agency's handling of the problem was "inappropriate."

Lee promised "stiff punishment" for Wu, Deputy Director Tsai Chen-jung (蔡震榮), who oversees the agency's operations and the director of the agency's service center in Taipei County, Chang Tseng-liang (張增樑), among other immigration officials, in a press release on Wednesday after having learned that the immigration agency hadn't notified the police or the interior ministry of the lost permits until a week after they went missing.

The agency's other deputy director Steve Wu (吳學燕), however, struck a different tone yesterday, saying defiantly: "We [the NIA] didn't inform the police because we are the police."

"We initiated a top-down search for the permits after discovering that they were gone, and notified the ministry after failing to locate them," he said. "We have handled the matter in a responsible fashion."

Asked what the worst case scenario would be because of the missing permits, Steve Wu said: "Foreign laborers could get hold of them through trafficking rings and use them to re-enter the country illegally after having already worked here and left."

But, he added, the permits, which bear serial numbers from E0076201 to E0076300 and from E0146201 to E0146300, had already been canceled, and anybody using them to enter the country would likely be apprehended by border control officers.

"This is quite suspicious," Steve Wu said of the missing permits. "They went missing from a desk, and they were definitely stolen by somebody [from within the service center]."

The agency's in-house investigation has so far focused on Chen Ling-fang (陳芳玲), an official at the center, Steve Wu said, adding that his agency had suspended Chen, who has admitted to "misplacing" the permits, and demoted Chang Tseng-liang to a non-managerial position.

Vice Minister of the Interior Lin Mei-chu (林美珠) yesterday said her ministry would accept the agency's demotion and suspension of Chang and Chen, respectively, but that Wu Chen-chi, Tsai and a handful of their subordinates would be officially reprimanded by the ministry as the agency continues to investigate the matter.

The agency hadn't located the permits as of press time yesterday.

"From now on, such papers must be locked up in safes when not in use, and security guards must be on hand to guard and transport them," Lin said, adding that specific procedures for the handling of permits and other sensitive documents would be implemented soon to prevent any further mishandling.

Earlier this month, a former clerk in the agency's predecessor, the Bureau of Immigration, was indicted on charges of colluding with human traffickers in smuggling Chinese prostitutes into the country in exchange for cash payments.

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