Saturday, November 28, 2015

Deep anger at Ting Hsin Injustice

Another elaborate home for pigeons.

In retrospect it looks predictable and obvious: Ting Hsin got off in the toxic oil scandal. The China Post observes:
Former Ting Hsin Oil and Fat Industrial Co. Chairman Wei Ying-chung (魏應充), suspected to be behind a series of food safety scandals starting in 2013, was found not guilty yesterday in a ruling by the Changhua District Court due to lack of evidence.

Five others involved in the case, including a former CEO, a current chairman and the head of its Vietnamese food company subsidiary, were also found not guilty. Outraged civic groups holding signs outside the court described it as the darkest day in Taiwan food safety history.

Prosecutors, who had sought a 30-year sentence for Wei's role in the scandal, which involved tainted cooking oil, nutritional supplements, milk, rice and other food products, said that they intended to file an appeal.

Judges concluded that the measuring standard using acidity was not the most adequate means of determining the sanitary standards of cooking oil as refinement would cause acidity measurements to drop. The court indicated that according to its examinations, the polar compound level found in the samples was within safety limits for consumption.

Wei, who controlled three subsidiaries of the Ting Hsin International Group, was indicted for violating the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation (食品安全衛生管理法) in October 2014 after investigators suspected the group of allegedly selling cooking oil mixed with animal feed oil.
Note that the head of the Vietnamese subsidiary was found not guilty. It's super super super hard not to believe that everyone at the top of the firm knew what was going on, and certainly no one out there in the public believes that they were ignorant of the company's use of feed oil as food oil, but since at least some of the bad oil came from Vietnam, the man in charge of the Vietnam section had to know. The Taipei Times observed:
Yesterday’s ruling said prosecutors failed to prove that Ting Hsin Oil and Fat sourced fat extracted from unhealthy animals or that the company’s products were manufactured using unsanitary processes.

The defendants could not be proved to have committed the crimes they were charged with and are therefore not guilty, it said.
Naw. It's the usual case of the connected and powerful getting off. The Taiwan Law Blog said on Twitter:
@michaelturton @jmstwn Anger toward judge misguided. Existing laws suck, prosecution didn't do its job + facts may differ from media reports
Anger toward the judge is spot on, in my opinion. The final decision, obviously insane, rests with him. In fact the judge went out immediately to defend himself in the media since he knew perfectly well the decision was legally and morally indefensible.

Ting Hsin, run by the powerful Wei family (of Wei Chuan foods) is in thick with the KMT. Last time around this scandal provoked public anger at the then-ruling KMT. This time around there is deep deep anger: the public is fed up at the way the System protects the powerful, and most people I've contacted are convinced the judge was bought. I am not so sure -- the System so reflexively protects the powerful that this outcome seems inevitable. Originally I had assumed it would be a charade, though a slightly different one...
The Ting Hsin oil scandal is now hitting its prosecution phase, with prosecutors deciding to indict the owner of the hapless conglomerate with 30 years worth of charges. Some from the pan-Green camp in Taiwan are charging that the company made a deal with the Ma Administration to cover up its involvement in the oil scandal last year, from which it miraculously emerged unscathed. The owner of Cheng-yi, in the Ting Hsing group, was given charges worth a possible 18 years. No doubt they will go through the whole charade of a trial and sentencing and then flee to China like everyone else, where they will continue to run their multibillion dollar conglomerate. The Ting Hsin group was also forced to drop its attempt to become manager of Taipei 101 and banks withdrew loans for land acquisition.

I'd say someone got peeved at Ting Hsin over one of the many deals it was involved in and decided to unmask the firm, but it could just be bad luck. And just before the election too, voters were made aware that the Wei Family and the Lien clan whose scion Sean Lien is stumbling stumping for mayor in Taipei were buddy-buddy, a reminder of the you-scratch-my-back-I-give-you-lucrative-access nature of KMT rule. Also of interest in that scandal, an employee in the Pingtung County government faxed the document confirming that animal feed oil had been used to Ting Hsin "inadvertently", thus tipping the company off to the investigation.
I figured the courts would go through the whole ritual of finding them guilty and then they'd flee to China as is usually the case with KMT-connected individuals. But I was wrong -- the System produced a less troublesome verdict for them. If I were really really paranoid, I might conclude that giving the judge an excuse/opportunity for this verdict was the reason the Changhua prosecutors brought the case so hastily.

But however you interpret the verdict, the one fact in this train wreck is that the public is again going to blame the KMT for foisting this legally incompetent, ethically incomprehensible, and politically subservient judicial system on the nation, as well as for protecting Ting Hsin. Look for more punishment at the polls. TT described:
Netizens and civic groups reacted angrily to the ruling.

Saying the verdicts were vastly different from what the public expected, many netizens said that the nation’s judiciary was dead.

One netizen sarcastically said that he was glad to hear the ruling because it meant the oil he consumed over the past decade was safe and that he had not consumed tainted oil products for a decade or more.
This story actually broke in 2013, when the bad oil was connected to China. But that connection vanished. Ting Hsin's profits come largely from its China trade...

DPP Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen had wisely been positioning the DPP as the party that cares about food security. This will likely pay off at election time.

But then the DPP will actually have to change the laws and overhaul the food system. Sure...

REF: Solidarity flipped me this video of Ma praising ECFA (in other words, himself) for bringing Ting Hsin back to Taiwan.

UPDATED: This image of the well-connected getting off is making the rounds.
The net is going to have a field day, and it will hurt the KMT.
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Mike Fagan said...

" The final decision, obviously insane, rests with him. In fact the judge went out immediately to defend himself in the media since he knew perfectly well the decision was legally and morally indefensible."

Wait a minute... I haven't got the case details to look at (nor the time to look into them), and I might well be missing a lot of important information. I'm perfectly happy to agree that the use of rancid lard from diseased animals to produce cooking oil unfit for human consumption is something that should be punished, but what exactly are you saying here? That standards of evidence don't matter? That court rulings should reflect the wishes of a baying mob?

Because if you are, I'd happily consume tainted oil once in a while than live in a society where standards of evidence can be swept aside at the behest of a fucking mob. If Ting Hsin really are guilty, and I suspect that is probably the case, it is the job of the prosecution to gather evidence sufficient to the standards required by the law. If they can't do that, then that isn't the judge's fault. He's a judge. His job is to judge is to judge cases according to the law as it is written, not as he or anyone else would like it to be.

Taiwan Law Blog said...

Although judges used to be able to conduct investigations and procure evidence on their own, reforms have made it so that judges can only look at evidence provided by the parties. This is a positive reform because it enhances the presumption of innocence and the neutrality of the judge. To justify anger at the judge on this case would mean having to show that the judge ruled otherwise in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt shown by the prosecution. I haven't seen this analysis in English or Chinese, and I don't believe it would be a supportable position if we look at the actual opinion. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the opinion.

Both the head of the Judicial Reform Foundation and the prosecutor who led the Ting Hsin investigation in Taipei, parties that rarely agree on anything, place the blame on the Changhua prosecution, so there's strong support for the position that the prosecution should be the target of anger.

Mike Fagan said...

And oddly enough, reading the Taipei Times just now on the train, it seems whoever wrote the editorial in today's paper agrees with me. The problem is more likely the content and detail of the legislation, not the judge's ruling per se.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan has become "Poison Island". It's a disgrace. An utterly pathetic, toxic disgrace.

Michael Turton said...

Both the head of the Judicial Reform Foundation and the prosecutor who led the Ting Hsin investigation in Taipei, parties that rarely agree on anything, place the blame on the Changhua prosecution,

Thanks for this kind note.


les said...

Fagan has a point. Remember how dismayed we were when the judge in CSB's case was removed for 'not delivering the verdict the people expected'?

Unknown said...

A jury system may have delivered a different verdict.