US monitors Omni Bank as Rebar scandal snowballs

COOPERATION: US treasury officials said they have not yet found any sign of money-laundering at the bank, in which the Wang family reportedly owns a major stake

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA, NEW YORK

Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 1

US Treasury Department officials have begun monitoring the operations of Omni Bank (安利銀行) in California at the request of Taiwan's finance officials amid the snowballing Rebar Asia Pacific Group (力霸亞太企業集團) scandal.

Officials from the US Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said on Tuesday that the office had so far found no signs of a bank run or money-laundering at any of the three branches or headquarters of Omni Bank, in which family members of Rebar Group founder Wang You-theng (王又曾) and his wife Wang Chin She-ying (王金世英) reportedly hold a 96 percent stake.

OCC officials said the office would take no action on Omni Bank until Lawrence Wang (王令興), chairman of Omni Bank and elder son of Wang Chin Shyh-ying, and Wang Lin-chiao (王令僑), an Omni Bank board director and second son of Wang Chin Shyh-ying, are formally indicted by Taiwanese prosecutors.

The OCC will take legal action against the Wang brothers -- at least one of whom is a US citizen -- when the "appropriateness" of their being executives of the US-based bank is considered by the OCC as "in doubt," the officials said.

The Wang brothers' mother resigned as a vice chairwoman of Omni Bank soon after the Rebar financial scandal erupted earlier this month.

Taiwan's judicial and financial authorities have been in contact with their US counterparts concerning the investigations into the Rebar scandal for assistance in the probe into the financial status and personal assets in the US belonging to Wang You-theng and his wife, as well as into whether there are any connections between the Rebar Group and the California-based Omni Bank.

Omni Bank, headquartered in Alhambra, California, was established in 1979. It was acquired by the Wang family in 1990. Omni Bank maintains three branches in San Jose, Monterey Park and Roland Heights.

Wang You-theng and Wang Chin Shyh-ying are at the center of the snowballing financial scandal and are believed to have stolen billions of dollars in corporate funds before going on the lam. They have been placed on Taiwan's most-wanted list and stand accused of embezzlement, insider trading, fraud and breach of trust.

Taiwanese and US authorities have been communicating in accordance with a Taiwan-US judicial assistance accord signed in March 2002, under which the two sides can help each other to obtain testimony from witnesses, deliver legal documents, ascertain the identities of criminal suspects and their whereabouts, and search for and impound evidence and freeze suspects' assets.

In terms of the accord, Taiwan can ask the US to help investigate the couple's whereabouts and their assets, but must respect the decisions and considerations of the US side.

Taiwan does not yet know how the US authorities will choose to handle the case, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said.

Wang and his wife fled Taiwan to China after two Rebar subsidiary companies applied for insolvency protection, which in turn triggered a run on The Chinese Bank (中華銀行), another Rebar affiliate.

After the Wangs reportedly flew to San Francisco on Jan. 13, the Taipei Prosecutor's Office issued wanted notices for them on Jan. 15 which will remain valid for 25 years, after which MOFA invalidated their passports.

The MOFA official said that US judicial officials have responded to the wanted notice by saying that Taiwan should provide documents and evidence for allegations that the Wangs have committed crimes, including fraud, money-laundering and insider trading, if they want any help in this regard from the US.

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