A senior Taiwanese military officer was taken into custody on Monday on charges of leaking confidential intelligence to China, in a case described as the highest level of espionage in the past 20 years and which has put Taiwanese spies operating in China in grave danger.
The officer, who worked for the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB), was identified as Colonel Lo Chi-cheng (羅奇正). Lo, who reports said was in charge at the bureau of building Taiwan’s spy network in China, is suspected of forwarding classified information and data to unauthorized personnel in violation of national laws.
The Military High Court agreed to a request to keep Lo detained pending further investigation by military judicial authorities on the grounds that Lo could impair national security or collude with witnesses to give false testimony if freed, a press release said.
Newspaper reports said military prosecutors believed Lo collaborated with a China-based Taiwanese businessman, identified as Lo Pin (羅斌), to collect military intelligence for China. Lo Pin has also been detained, pending the progress of the investigation, reports said.
According to the Chinese--language Apple Daily, some of the classified information passed on to China included lists of spies stationed in China.
The information is believed to have compromised crucial Taiwanese intelligence networks in China and the agents were now “running for their lives,” an unnamed military source told the paper.
However, ministry spokesman Major General Yu Sy-tue (虞思祖) told a press conference yesterday that the damage caused to the Taiwanese military was relatively low.
Prosecutors said Lo Pin was recruited by the MIB in 2004 to serve as a source in China, where he went under the cover of a Taiwanese businessman.
However, Lo Pin’s cover was blown, which led to his arrest in Fujian Province by the end of 2004.
Lo Pin told prosecutors he was tortured by Chinese security -officials for 15 days before confessing that Lo Chi-cheng was his handler in Taiwanese intelligence.
Prosecutors said Lo Pin returned to Taiwan to persuade Lo Chi-cheng to collect classified information for China and beginning in 2007, Lo Chi-cheng started to forward classified information to Lo Pin, which he then allegedly handed over to Chinese intelligence in Hong Kong.
Lo Chi-cheng received a payment of between US$4,000 and US$6,000 each time he passed information, while Lo Pin received a payment between US$2,000 and US$3,000, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they suspected Lo Chi-cheng leaked classified information to China on at least 12 occasions. Over that period, Lo Chi-cheng is believed to have amassed as much as US$100,000 in payments from Chinese intelligence.
The Chinese-language United Daily News said the MIB had been monitoring Lo Chi-cheng’s actions for “quite some time” and laid the groundwork to collect evidence and witnesses.
Acting on a tipoff that Lo Chi-cheng was about to pass military intelligence to Lo Pin late last month, military prosecutors cooperated with the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office and the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) to pursue the case, the United Daily News said.
Investigators who searched the residences of the two men found bank passbooks and other data related to the case. MJIB agents have also questioned holders of proxy accounts linked to the case who admitted being asked by Lo Chi-cheng to open them for his intelligence purposes, the paper said.
On Saturday, investigators -followed the two suspects to a post office in Banciao (板橋), where Lo Chi-cheng gave Lo Pin a flash drive believed to contain classified military information.
Commenting on the matter in the legislature yesterday, DPP Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) questioned whether cross-strait espionage had yet to decrease despite warming economic relations with China.
“If the government is so optimistic about cross-strait relations, then why are the espionage battles between the two sides still so heated?” he asked.
He also expressed concern that Taiwan’s spy network in China could have been compromised and said that the government should consider negotiating the protection of Taiwanese spies in China and their safe return to Taiwan.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT Y. CHAO, CNA AND STAFF WRITER
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