Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) yesterday said the ministry has asked China Airlines (CAL) to investigate why cigarette smuggling by national security officials has seemingly become a norm since 2014 by taking advantage of the speedy clearance given to presidential charter flights.
Lin posted his remarks on Facebook after the airline on Sunday released data from 2006 to 2013 on the amount of cigarettes preordered for return flights of presidential state visits.
Previously, the airline had only provided figures from January 2014 to this month.
Photo: Ou Su-mei, Taipei Times
“Honesty is the best policy. After the incident involving national security officials smuggling cigarettes through presidential charter flights was exposed, CAL only provided data dating back to 2014, saying it could not locate earlier data after a system upgrade,” Lin wrote, adding that he was “very dissatisfied” with the airline’s attitude.
“The airline assigned some 20 employees in a bid to recover more data over the weekend after I demanded a thorough investigation. It made some progress on Sunday, successfully retrieving data from 2006 to 2013,” he wrote. “I have asked CAL to keep looking until the ultimate truth is revealed.”
The information published by the airline so far showed that of the 26 state trips for which it was the carrier, there were nine cases in which more than 1,000 cartons of cigarettes were preordered, Lin said.
Except for a state visit in October 2010, in which 1,683 cartons of cigarettes were preordered, the other eight cases took place after June 2014, he added.
“In other words, the airline has regularly received advance orders for at least 1,000 cartons of tax-free cigarettes since June 2014, which was the turning point. What exactly happened during this period? Did the national security officers do so with the sole purpose of evading the tobacco tax? Or were there other reasons?” Lin wrote.
“I have asked the airline to get to the bottom of the matter and to release the results of its investigation,” he added.
Lin said the airline has announced that passengers boarding presidential charter flights would not have any prerogative in terms of the purchase of tax-free products.
Like passengers of regular flights, the tax-free goods they purchase would be handed directly to them while they are onboard.
The airline should know by now that it can only regain the public’s trust by answering questions about the incident, Lin said.
In other developments, Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊) said that she would not shirk her responsibility if it is determined that she should be held accountable for the smuggling of tax-free cigarettes by security agents accompanying President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on her visit to the nation’s Caribbean allies.
She added that she is not the kind of person who would flee from her responsibility.
Chen said that she reserves the right to sue the netizen who falsely claimed that National Security Bureau officer Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲), who allegedly placed an order for 3,500 cartons of duty-free cigarettes, was one of her aides when she was Kaohsiung mayor.
The netizen had tainted her reputation by twisting the facts and spreading rumors, Chen said at a book launch by Deputy Legislative Speaker Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌), adding that society should not tolerate such behavior.
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