Kaohsiung prosecutors yesterday indicted nine men who in the middle of August allegedly smuggled 154 cats from China, saying that they face prison sentences of up to seven years.
The case sparked a debate over pet smuggling and the handling of seized animals, as authorities euthanized the cats over fears of rabies.
The Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office indicted four main suspects, as well as five others who allegedly worked on the fishing boat used to transport the animals, with breaching the Smuggling Penalty Act (懲治走私條例).
The four main suspects are a 56-year-old man surnamed Cheng (鄭), who runs a fishing company; a 42-year-old pet breeder surnamed Lin (林); a 50-year-old former marine patrol officer surnamed Chang (張); and a 49-year-old associate of Chang surnamed Kuo (郭).
Prosecutors recommended heavy penalties for the four, saying that they attempted to bring the purebred cats to Taiwan on the boat to evade quarantine requirements.
People who illegally import or export “controlled articles” are subject to penalties of up to seven years in jail and a fine of up to NT$3 million (US$107,519).
The prosecutors said that illegal importation of animals might lead to the outbreak of diseases that are not endemic in Taiwan, as well as affect regular import businesses.
The 154 cats of several breeds, including Russian blue, ragdoll, Persian American shorthair and British shorthair, had a combined market value of NT$1.96 million after taxes, prosecutors said.
The others indicted were the 55-year-old skipper of the fishing vessel, surnamed Lin (林); the 51-year-old chief engineer of the boat, surnamed Kao (高); and three Indonesian crew members, they said.
Cheng and Lin, the breeder, allegedly began planning to smuggle the cats in June, prosecutors said, adding that Chang, Kuo and several unidentified Chinese nationals were also involved in the plot.
Prosecutors said that Cheng and Lin, the breeder, allegedly leased a fishing boat, the Shun Fa, for NT$150,000 per month from the vessel’s owner, surnamed Chiang (江), who was apparently unaware of the planned activity.
Allegedly at Cheng’s instruction, the skipper and chief engineer of the Shun Fa converted the boat’s cabin and added an air conditioning system suitable for transporting animals.
On Aug. 18 the crew allegedly took possession of 62 cages with 154 cats from Chinese boats off Penghu County, the prosecutors said.
They were intercepted by a Kaohsiung-based Coast Guard vessel near Tainan’s Anping Port (安平漁港) the next day, the prosecutors said.
As the origin of the cats could not be determined, they were euthanized on Aug. 21 over fears of rabies, which is endemic in China.
The government at the time said that killing the cats was necessary to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases that could threaten the health of animals and humans in Taiwan.
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