The Taipei District Court yesterday found in favor of academic Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔) over charges that he had damaged the reputation of Formosa Plastics Group (FPG).
Tsuang, a professor in National Chung Hsing University’s environmental engineering department, told an environmental impact assessment committee meeting in 2011 that the exhaust gas emitted by the group’s naphtha cracker in Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County, contained heavy metals and carcinogenic substances, resulting in elevated cancer rates among residents in the area.
Saying Tsuang’s remarks had damaged its reputation, the group filed a defamation lawsuit against him with the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office, as well as a civil lawsuit seeking NT$40 million (US$1.34 million) in compensation and a public apology in newspapers.
Prosecutors decided in June last year not to indict Tsuang because he had been invited to the meeting as an expert and his comments concerned public health and environmental protection issues, and were not defamatory.
The district court’s ruling echoed what the prosecutors said a year ago — that his remarks were based on academic research and were made with good intentions, to care for public health.
His remarks were also comments on public affairs and did not undermine the company’s reputation, the ruling said.
The company can appeal the ruling with the Taiwan High Court, the district court said.
Tsuang has won the support of many fellow academics — including former Academia Sinica president Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) — who have signed a petition of support saying the group’s legal actions would have a chilling effect by restricting academic freedom in a democratic society.
Additional reporting by staff writer