Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Crackdown on celebs debated

RIGHTS Jason Tang and Landy Chang, accused of using the drug ketamine, claim their reputations have been damaged by a heavy-handed media

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

From left, music producer Landy Chang, Kang Kai, chairman of an entertainment artists union and celebrity Jason Tang attend a hearing at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI

Prosecutors' offices prone to illegal press leaks and unsound ketamine drug-testing standards are undermining celebrities' rights amid a fresh wave of celebrity drug scandals, industry figures, lawyers and lawmakers said yesterday.

A legislative hearing presided over by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩) yesterday pitted a handful of Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and National Police Agency (NPA) officials against a coterie of lawyers and celebrities Jason Tang (唐志中) and Landy Chang (張培仁), who stand accused of using ketamine.

An anesthetic popular among youth, ketamine is classified as a Category-3 "minor" drug, meaning that possession, in small quantities, doesn't constitute a criminal offense.

A crackdown on drug-using celebs in May netted, among others, Tang and Chang, who both tested positive for ketamine.

Chang, a music producer and youth culture icon, claimed his test was flawed, while Channel V host Tang said that unsound ketamine drug-testing standards were behind his "false-positive" test result, a claim backed by an expert witness yesterday. Both celebs denied ever using drugs.

Although not criminally liable for using ketamine, Tang and Chang yesterday said the test results have damaged their reputations.

Also at issue was the media's reporting on the results before they were officially released by prosecutors -- a development that lawyers claimed underscores a culture of press leaks and haphazard operations in the justice system.

"Who is going to stand up and take responsibility for the damage caused to their reputations? Who is going to compensate them for lost work because of the scandals? Nobody," said Kang Kai (康凱), chairman of an entertainment artists union, referring to Tang and Chang.

"And what about the leaks? Just how did the media get their hands on the test results before their release?" he added.

Taipei Veterans General Hospital toxicology specialist Tsai Wei-chen (蔡維楨) yesterday said "false-positive" results in ketamine tests were common, as legal "contaminants" in the blood stream can produce a reading suggesting trace amounts of the drug.

"Taiwan is definitely behind the times when it comes to accurately testing for the ketamine," Tsai said, citing Hong Kong and Singapore as examples of governments boasting sound ketamine-testing standards.

In Singapore, he said, tests indicating trace amounts are considered invalid because of the high risk of false-positives.

Both Tang and Chang tested positive for trace amounts.

"Testing positive for ketamine doesn't necessarily indicate that one has used the drug," Tsai said. "In low amounts, it can be difficult to test for."

MOJ Bureau of Investigation official Hu Jen-hsiung (胡仕雄) acknowledged the "false-positive risk" at the hearing, but defended his bureau's testing methods as "lawful" per local standards.

The ketamine test itself, Hu said, merely seeks to determine if the drug is present in one's system, and if so, in what quantity.

Prosecutors don't use drug tests as a basis for determining how the substance in question entered one's system, be it through deliberate drug use or accidental entry -- through second-hand smoke, for example, he said.

Prosecutor Chou Huai-kang (周懷康) tried to assure critics that a stringent code of information control is practiced in the justice system to protect the privacy of subjects under investigation.

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