Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Company fined for illegal profits on masks

SUPPLY LINES Although the demand for masks have soared, no shortages are expected as local manufacturers as well as the military have stepped up production

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Fair Trade Commission yesterday issued the National Medical Equipment Co with a fine of NT$150,000 for profiteering.

The company was found selling N95 healthcare particulate respirators, that cost between NT$59 and NT$79 at retail stores, for NT$700 each.

According to the commission, officials received complaints alleging that the company was taking advantage of the increasing demand for surgical masks, especially N95 respirators.

The commission assigned an official to visit the company yesterday and it was discovered that N95 respirators were being sold at the higher price.

In addition, it was not clearly stated where the surgical masks sold at the company were made or what their invoice prices were, which was in further violation of the Fair Trade Law (公平法).

As a result, the commission decided to issue the NT$150,000 fine.

To make sure that respirators are available at all times, Secretary-General to the President, Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) said at a press conference that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has asked domestic respirator manufacturers to increase their production.

Meanwhile, during the fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Cabinet has the authorization to distribute all imported masks to those who need them.

In addition, the president also asked military logistics units to help produce as many masks as possible.

In response to the president's request, the Logistics Command Center immediately said that supplying masks would not be a problem.

"We still have plenty of masks in stock, so mask supply will not be a problem. Now that we have accepted the assignment, our 302nd Factory will be responsible for production and will deliver 25,000 to 30,000 masks a day," said Vice Admiral Kung Chia-cheng (龔家政), who is chief of staff at the center.

In the meantime, DPP Legislator Lee Chen-nan (李鎮楠) yesterday filed a libel suit against KMT Legislator Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) because he believed that Liu was accusing him of profiteering by purchasing 500,000 masks at a low retail price and selling them for NT$150 each.

Liu said at a press conference yesterday morning that "a DPP lawmaker allegedly tried to earn some extra money by purchasing 500,000 surgical masks from retailers, then doubling the price when he sold them."

In addition to pressing the suit against Liu, Lee said that he would resign his position if prosecutors discovered any evidence to prove him guilty.

Liu said that his information came from newspaper stories and he never singled out by name any of his colleagues. I did not say it was him. So, where does this libel suit come from?" Liu said.

When approached by reporters yesterday, Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) said that whoever tried to impound surgical masks to cause a deficiency in the market has violated Article 251 of the Criminal Code and can be sentenced to up to five years in jail.

"It is an offense that merits public prosecution, so prosecutors will decide whether to start investigating this issue," he said.

Article 251 states that "a person who by threats, violence, or fraud commits one of the following offenses shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than five years:

1.Obstructs the sale or transportation of grain or other foodstuffs needed by the public, thereby causing a deficiency in the market; 2.Obstructs the sale or transportation of seed, fertilizer, raw material, or other basics needed in agriculture or industry, thereby causing a deficiency in the market."

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