Citizen journalist and documentary filmmaker Kevin Lee (李惠仁) yesterday morning filed a lawsuit against eight government officials, including Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基), over the alleged cover-up of three recent avian flu outbreaks.
Lee’s lawsuit, filed at the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office, accuses incumbent and former council officials of malfeasance and document forgery in connection with three avian flu outbreaks last month and this month for reporting the highly pathogenic cases to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as “of a low pathogenic level.”
The other seven officials are COA Deputy Minister Wang Cheng-teng (王政騰), Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine Deputy Director-General Huang Kwo-ching (黃國青), former Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine director Hsu Tien-lai (許天來), former COA minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄), Animal Health Research Institute Director-General Tsai Hsiang-jung (蔡向榮), and division heads Yang Wen-yuan (楊文淵) and Chiu Chui-chang (邱垂章).
Lee said two outbreaks occurred in Magong (馬公), Penghu, on Dec. 21 and Jan. 4, and a third in Zaociao Township (造橋), Miaoli County, on Jan. 18.
Lee has spent more than six years investigating avian influenza in Taiwan and first reported on suspected cover-ups of avian flu outbreaks in his documentary titled A Secret That Can’t Be Exposed (不能戳的秘密), which sparked a controversy last year and led to Chen Wu-hsiung’s resignation.
Lee also filed a lawsuit against council officials for malfeasance on Dec. 28, 2011, but the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office dropped the case on July 9 last year, saying it had found no evidence of a crime.
Lee said he could not accept the prosecutors’ finding and has continued to investigate avian flu cases nationwide.
Meanwhile, Huang said the Intravenous Pathogenicity Index (IVPI) results of a case of avian flu found at a free-range chicken farm on Penghu on Nov. 22 last year was 1.87, which means it was highly pathogenic, and the council reported it to the OIE on Dec 7.
Bird-flu cases were found on two other farms within a 3km radius and another case was found in Miaoli County this year, but the three cases were identified as low pathogenic because their IVPI were 0.21, 002 and 0.22 respectively, he said.
The council reported them to the OIE on Jan. 4 and Jan. 18, Huang added.
Chen Bao-jia urged Lee to ensure his facts were correct.
“You might not have clear information; I suggest you should find evidence to prove the facts first before you speak out to the public, or else you will affect the whole industry and our disease prevention practices, which is inappropriate,” the minister said.
Additional reporting by Lee I-chia