Sat, Jul 30, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Four arrested in green onion price-hike shocker

PRICE-FIXING Two suspected gangsters and two merchants were arrested for trying to rip off farmers and merchants in Ilan in the wake of Typhoon Haitang

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Police yesterday arrested four men suspected of intimidating farmers and wholesale merchants in order to artificially jack up the price of green onions in the wake of Typhoon Haitang.

"The four are Ilan County gangsters Kuo Chung-cheng (郭聰政) and Lu Fang-chuan (盧峰銓), and vegetable wholesale merchants Lu Chieh-hong (呂价弘) and Chen Fei-hong (陳飛弘)," said Kuo Yung-fa (郭永發), spokesman for the Ilan Prosecutors' Office.

"The four suspects knew Ilan County was one of the few places with a good harvest of green onions after the agricultural damage wrought by Typhoon Haitang," Kuo said.

According to the prosecutor, Kuo, Lu and their lackeys blocked local farmers' trucks in front of the Ilan agricultural wholesale market, and bullied the farmers into selling them all of their green onions.

They even took photographs of farmers and the plate numbers of their trucks to intimidate them, the prosecutor said. When vegetable merchants from other parts of the county went to Ilan to purchase onions after the typhoon, Kuo, Lu Fang-chuan and their gangster henchmen warned them not to try to buy onions directly from farmers, and told them they could only by onions from their accomplices, the merchants Lu Chieh-hong and Chen. The onions were then sold at exorbitant prices via the two merchants.

The spokesman said the four suspects made a cool NT$10 million (US$313,000) from hiking the price of onions. He said the price of green onions skyrocketed to NT$450 per catty (600g) -- 15 times its normal price -- after the typhoon hit because of strong-arm tactics of gangsters such as Kuo.

The prosecutor said it wasn't the first time Kuo and his gouging accomplices had struck: the suspects also drove up the price of green onions during the serious floods last month in southern Taiwan.

Kuo Yung-fa said the four suspects were accused of intimidation and of violating the Fair Trade Law (公平交易法). He said investigators were looking for Kuo's henchmen.

The prosecutor said Kuo, 36, who has close connections with local politicians and police, was becoming the top gangster in Ilan County. Investigators could have caught Kuo about a week ago if he hadn't been tipped off that he was a target, the spokesman said. Prosecutors believe local police informed Kuo of the dragnet closing in around him while dining with him a week ago. Kuo fled his residence after that meeting, the spokesman said.

Investigators finally busted him in a riverside factory in Ilan.

The Ministry of Justice has launched a crackdown on the perennial problem of artificial price hikes for fruits and vegetables after natural disasters.

Prosecutors nationwide have been going to agricultural wholesale markets to check the price of agricultural products and to try to prevent gouging.

The Consumers' Foundation last week also appealed to the government to establish a mechanism for emergency fruit and vegetable imports or tariff exemptions for imports to help ensure that merchants do not make artificial profits. The foundation also wants the government to facilitate channels for farmers to sell their produce directly to customers.

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