Taiwan to seize assets of collapsed building developer as death toll rises to 94

Soldiers and rescuers search for survivors in a collapsed building in Tainan City, Taiwan, on Feb 10, 2016, in this handout photo from the Taiwanese Military News Agency.
Soldiers and rescuers search for survivors in a collapsed building in Tainan City, Taiwan, on Feb 10, 2016, in this handout photo from the Taiwanese Military News Agency. PHOTO: EPA

NEW TAIPEI CITY (AFP) - Almost a million dollars in assets belonging to the developer and three associates of a building in Taiwan felled by an earthquake will be seized, a court ruled Friday (Feb 12), as the authorities said 94 people are confirmed dead in the disaster.

Rescuers are still digging through the rubble of the toppled Wei-kuan apartment complex in the southern city of Tainan which collapsed during last Saturday's quake - 30 residents remain missing and the death toll has climbed to 94.

Prosecutors questioning the developer and two others connected with the building have said there were "flaws" in the residential complex, including a lack of steel reinforcement girders. Pictures of the ruins also showed tin cans and foam were used as fillers in the concrete, exacerbating public anger over the latest safety scandal to hit the island.

Tainan's district court Friday gave the city government the go-ahead to freeze up to NT$30 million (S$1.27 million) in assets belonging to the building's developer Lin Ming-hui and three associates, according to a government statement.

"The Tainan district court handled it quickly, and granted... provisional seizure up to NT$30 million of the assets of the related people," the statement said.

It added the move was to prevent the developer and associates from "disposing assets". Lin and two of the men have been detained on charges of professional negligence resulting in death. The fourth to have assets seized was a contractor used during the construction of the Wei-kuan building, the only high-rise to crumble completely in the 6.4 magnitude earthquake. He has not been detained.

The NT$30 million is a preliminary figure to cover the property damages of victims who have already made claims, the Tainan government statement said. The government has also identified land owned by Lin - totalling at least 30 plots in Tainan - and has directed local authorities to prevent any sale of those assets.

Distraught relatives of residents said they had complained over cracks in the walls of the building. Engineers helping at the rescue site added that some walls many have been knocked down on the ground floor, which housed part of a multi-storey electronics store.

The Wei-kuan building had 96 apartments and was completed in 1994, before a new building code was brought in following a devastating earthquake that left 2,400 people dead in 1999. The building collapse has struck a nerve with the public, increasingly embittered by a string of disasters, from food safety scandals to a water park explosion that left 15 dead.