TAIPEI (Kyodo) — A Taiwan customs official is in custody after allegedly covering up the smuggling of high-grade beef from Japan into Taiwan in defiance of a mad cow disease ban, officials and newspaper reports said.
Tang Lung-sheng, a section head at the Taipei Customs Office, is alleged to have protected the smuggling operation that brought in more than 5,000 kilograms of Matsusaka beef over more than a year.
After intercepting the latest shipment Wednesday, prosecutors alleged that frozen meat importer Chang Shih-chun, 52, and others carried the beef in personal luggage on a weekly basis and that Tang ensured they passed through customs smoothly.
Chang would then sell the beef to restaurants at more than twice the price he paid in Japan, prosecutors said.
Health and agricultural officials are now attempting to determine where the beef was sold, officials said.
Tang denied involvement in the operation, according to media reports, but he was detained as investigators looked for evidence of accomplices among his colleagues, the United Daily News reported.
Chang was released on bail.
Matsusaka beef has a high fat content and is one of the most expensive Japanese beef varieties. It has been banned in Taiwan since an outbreak of BSE in Japan in 2001.
Beef imports are a sensitive issue in Taiwan.
The government remains mired in disagreement with the U.S. government over restrictions on, and definitions of, beef offal.
Legislators across the political divide and consumer groups have been quick to attack the government over any relaxation on beef imports.