Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Officials denounce acquittals in 2014 seasoning scandal

SPEEDY TRIAL?The top court said prosecutors may not appeal a case in which the defendants had been acquitted in the first and second rulings

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

Public health officials and prosecutors in central Taiwan yesterday cried foul after three businesspeople were absolved of all charges in a toxic seasoning scandal from 2014, even though they were found to have contravened food safety laws.

The Supreme Court on Thursday cited contradictions in the interpretation of the law by the lower courts and, in accordance with the Criminal Speedy Trial Act (刑事妥速審判法), rejected prosecutors’ appeal and acquitted all three defendants.

The three are Lin Chung-chu (林中柱), owner of Yi Hsing Trading Co (誼興貿易) in Taichung; and Hsieh Ming-chi (謝明吉) and his cousin Hsieh Jen-kui (謝仁貴), proprietors of Ching Hsing Hang Powder Manufacturing Factory (進興行製粉廠) in Changhua City.

Judicial agencies and public health officials raided the companies and factories operated by Lin and the Hsieh cousins in November 2014, and found that they had added magnesium carbonate — a drying agent to prevent clumping — to black and white pepper powder, which was used to produce pepper seasoning, chili and curry powder, five-spice powder and other types of seasoning.

Officials found that the magnesium carbonate that the defendants used was labeled “for industrial use only” and “not fit for human consumption.”

Tests found that the seasonings produced by the two companies contained 6.4 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic (legal limit is less than 4ppm), along with 477.6ppm of iron and a high amount of heavy metals, which food experts said unsafe and harmful to humans.

Prosecutors indicted Lin and the Hsieh cousins on several charges, including contravening the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation (食品安全衛生管理法), and for mislabeling the pepper powder and their derivative seasonings as “high grade” or “pure” seasoning products.

In the first and second rulings by a district court and High Court, the defendants were found to have contravened the food safety act, but were found not guilty based on a technicality, that is, magnesium carbonate is permitted as a food additive and the food safety law does not differentiate between magnesium carbonate for industrial and non-industrial use.

Prosecutors filed an appeal, but the Supreme Court said that, based on the Criminal Speedy Trial Act, the prosecution may not file an appeal if the defendants had been found not guilty in the first and second rulings, unless the case had contravened the Constitution or requires a constitutional interpretation

The Supreme Court’s “ruling represents a major setback for the protection of public health. The interpretation by the judges did not conform to the intent of the law and highlighted the problems and limitations of our nation’s laws,” prosecutor Wu Tsui-fang (吳萃芳) said.

“It was a baffling ruling, and I do not understand its logic,” Changhua County Public Health Bureau Director Yeh Yen-po (葉彥伯) said. “The main issue should be the protection of consumers’ health, but the ruling’s interpretation ran counter to it.”

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