TAIPEI: A Taiwanese tycoon was jailed for four years on Friday over a tainted cooking oil scandal that sparked widespread public outrage across the island.
Wei Ying-chung was jailed for fraud by a panel of judges, months after hundreds of angry consumers took to the streets in protest when he escaped conviction on other related charges.
Taiwan’s government passed a tougher food safety law in 2013 in the wake of the cooking oil scandal, but the public has demanded higher jail terms and fines after a string of food safety issues.
Taipei district court said in a statement that Wei had “falsely labelled the products and sold adulterated food to defraud and obtain profits… and gravely violated consumers’ rights”.
Wei is ex-chairman of Wei Chuan Foods Corp — a unit of food giant Ting Hsin International Group, which owns the Master Kong instant noodle brand popular in Taiwan and China.
He came under investigation after a supplier that makes Wei Chuan-brand cooking oil was accused of using the banned colouring agent copper chlorophyllin and cheap cottonseed oil for years.
In a statement read out by his lawyer, Wei said there had been “misunderstandings over the facts”.
“I will humbly reflect on myself and continue to work hard. We didn’t sell tainted food and I have a clear conscience,” Wei added. His lawyer told reporters he intends to appeal.
Among 12 other Wei Chuan and Ting Hsin employees indicted in the case, 11 received jail terms of up to three years and 10 months, while one was acquitted, according to the court.
Wei Chuan was also fined Tw$15.5 million ($473,000).
Wei has insisted his company was unaware the oil it purchased from the supplier, Changchi Foodstuff Co., contained the banned ingredients. The company was ordered to recall tens of thousands of bottles of the tainted oil.
Wei was acquitted last November, along with five others, on charges that his company made and sold cooking oil adulterated with imported animal fat extracted from unhealthy beasts.
The court said prosecutors failed to prove Ting Hsin imported raw materials from Vietnam that were not suitable for human consumption, or that the company’s products were manufactured under unsanitary conditions.
That triggered a wave of public outcry, with consumers boycotting the company’s products and hundreds of people turning out to protest Wei’s acquittal.