Taiwan probes two executives over China spying allegations

Senior executives of Hong Kong-listed company questioned in Taipei after being detained while attempting to leave.

Taiwan police
Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, is already on high alert for Chinese attempts at disinformation before the January 11 elections for the presidency and legislature [Wally Santana/AP]

Authorities in Taiwan confirmed on Tuesday that two senior executives from the Hong Kong-listed company China Innovation Investment Limited were being investigated by authorities over allegations relating to election interference.

Xiang Xin and his wife Gong Qing, who are executive director and director of the company, were stopped at Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport on Sunday while trying to leave the country.

Taiwan Interior Minister Hsu Kuo-yung said on Monday they had been detained but declined further comment because the case was still under investigation.

They are believed to be being held by authorities at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Taipei.

The detentions follow explosive claims by self-confessed spy Wang “William” Liqiang, who told Australia’s Nine Network the company China Innovation Investment Limited provided a cover for espionage, with Xiang acting as an alleged ring leader for the operation.

Xiang and Gong were referred to the Taipei District Prosecutors Office on Monday night for further investigation on suspicion of violating the National Security Act, office spokeswoman Chen Yu-ping told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday.

They have also been ordered not to leave Taiwan, she said.

‘Under suspicion’

The pair was being probed on suspicion of “developing an organisation” for foreign forces including the Chinese government, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, Chen said.

“The two litigants were very cooperative … We are looking into the purpose of their visit,” she said, adding that the pair made frequent trips to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Investment Commission, which is under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said on Monday the two executives had applied in late December 2016 to invest 100 million Taiwan dollars ($3.27m) in Taiwan to set up a real estate company.

However, Taiwan rejected the application in April 2017 due to national security considerations, it said, without giving details.

China Innovation Investment’s company profile on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange website says it is a Hong Kong-based investment holding company “principally engaged in the investment in dual usage of military and civil sectors”.

“The company’s investments mainly include military and civil dual-used charge storage batteries, new models of lighting products, eco-equipment materials and energy-saving media terminals,” it added.

It is not clear whether the company currently has operations in Taiwan.

On Monday, the company confirmed that the two officials had been stopped at Taipei’s main airport and asked to cooperate in a probe into the Australian media reports.

But the company said Wang was never employed by the firm and that Xiang and Gong never participated in espionage activities.

China has said that Wang, the alleged spy, is a convicted fraudster wanted by Shanghai police.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own, is already on high alert for Chinese attempts at disinformation and intimidation before the January 11 elections for the presidency and legislature.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January, urged citizens in August to stay on alert for Chinese-financed media “infiltration” after a Reuters report of a Beijing-backed media campaign to buy press coverage on the island.

Source: News Agencies