Taiwan indicts two businessmen in latest food scandal

TAIPEI (AFP) - Two Taiwanese businessmen have been charged with using banned industrial dyes to adulterate food products, a case which prompted mass recalls in the island's latest food safety scandal, prosecutors said Tuesday.

They sought a 20-year jail term for Lu Tien-jung on charges of food safety violations and fraud. His son and business partner Lu Chia-chien may face an 18-year jail term on the same charges, in addition to a fine of Tw$20 million (S$882,600) for each man.

The pair, who run the Chien Hsin company at the centre of the scandal, were charged with manufacturing and selling soybean emulsifiers tainted with dimethyl yellow and diethyl yellow dyes which have been banned from food products since late 2008, said the Changhua district prosecutor's office.

"The defendants caused public health hazards that are difficult to estimate and seriously damaged the national image. Their crimes are severe but they have denied their intention to commit the crimes and shown no remorse," it said in a statement.

As of December 24, around 80 tonnes of tainted products ranging from flavoured dried tofu to instant noodles had been removed from shelves, according to health authorities.

Taiwan is reeling from a string of food safety scandals this year, which triggered public outrage and contributed to the ruling party's massive defeat in last month's local elections.

Hundreds of tonnes of products made with "gutter oil" were recalled in a scandal that surfaced in September. The scandal brought down the island's health minister.

That was followed by a mass recall one month later when Taiwanese food giant Ting Hsin group was accused of selling for human consumption oil intended for animal food.

Wei Ying-chung, a former Ting Hsin executive and one of Taiwan's richest men, was taken into custody during the government investigation into the scandal. He was later hit with nearly 140 fraud charges and faces a 30-year-jail term if convicted.

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