Prosecutors have indicted three people, including a former news anchor, on charges of profiteering involving the importation of wildlife from Africa for sale to the Wanpi World Safari Zoo in Tainan.
They are former SET-TV news anchor and show host Lee Tian-yi (李天怡), her husband, Kuo Jen-chieh (郭人杰), and their friend, Tony Lee (李吳達), who had businesses in Australia, the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office said in a statement.
They also issued an arrest warrant for Michael Sun (孫耀亨), a lawyer and businessman based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times
The three were charged with profiteering and breach of trust, in connection with importing 18 giraffes, white rhinos, zebras and antelopes for sale to Wanpi zoo in Tainan’s Syuejia District (學甲).
Prosecutors said the suspects took advantage of Wanpi zoo officials’ lack of understanding about wildlife trade to inflate prices, looking to make nearly US$4 million in profits, before the sale was called off in August last year, after animal rights advocates petitioned the government to block the transaction.
Before the sale was blocked, prosecutors said Wanpi zoo had already made an initial payment of US$2.73 million, the indictment read.
The zoo in 2020 applied with the Forestry Bureau to import 18 giraffes, rhinos, zebras and antelopes from Eswatini, a diplomatic ally of Taiwan.
The couple allegedly sought the assistance of Sun, who has South African citizenship and had held public office in the country.
Investigators found that the couple, together with Lee and Sun, set up a company, Pacific Image Ltd, in the Seychelles, to facilitate the business of procuring wildlife for Wanpi zoo.
Evidence gathered from Pacific Image showed initial listed quotes, such as US$6,500 per giraffe and US$2,500 per zebra, for a total package price of US$396,750, prosecutors said.
However, the final price tag when the company finalized the sale agreement with the zoo showed quotations of US$54,000 per giraffe and US$14,000 per zebra, for a total package of US$5.46 million.
A preliminary investigation led to raids, with Lee Tian-yi, Kuo and Tony Lee in February being questioned and later released on bail.
At the time, prosecutors alleged that while the deal was still on, the company inflated the quotations by an estimated US$250,000, and that some of the money was transferred to Lee Tian-yi’s and Kuo’s bank accounts even though the animals were never imported.
The trio’s company was reportedly commissioned by SET Group general manager Chang Rong-hua (張榮華), the new owner of Wanpi zoo, and wanted to import African wildlife, although the zoo has been long been accused by animal rights campaigners of maltreating animals under its charge.
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