The three former aides, Lee Yi-hsien, Chen Wei-jen, and Lin Yun-ta, were interrogated by the prosecutor’s office in Taipei on June 18, after local prosecutors and officials from Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau conducted raids at five separate locations, according to local media.
Lee and Chen were detained and held incommunicado for allegedly violating the island’s national security law, after the Taipei District Court granted a request from prosecutors to hold the two suspects, on the grounds that the two could collude or destroy evidence.
Meanwhile, Lin was released after paying NT$100,000 (about $3,375) in bail.
Prosecutors said the three men were directed by Chinese intelligence agents under China’s Ministry of State Security to establish an espionage organization in Taiwan and recruited locals into the group from 2014 to 2018.
Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory, despite the fact that the self-ruled island has its own constitution, military, and democratically-elected officials. Beijing has thus infiltrated Taiwan through various means, such as spreading Chinese propaganda through local social media and enticing locals to become Chinese agents.
According to local media United Daily News, the three men reached out to local reporters who covered the Taiwan government and offered them a monthly stipend of NT$30,000 (about $1,010) or free tourism trips to China, in exchange for information on meetings held by government officials.
In the four years, the three men handed over confidential information from multiple Taiwanese government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Mainland Affairs Council, to Chinese agents, prosecutors alleged. The information included meeting minutes and personnel appointments.
Lee was an aide working for Chang Li-Shan, a local lawmaker of the opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), between 2016 and 2018.
Following Lee’s detention, Chang, now a magistrate for Taiwan’s Yunlin County, issued a statement saying that Lee was a volunteer at the time and not one of her officially registered aides. Chang urged the local justice department to be strict in its investigation to safeguard Taiwan’s national security.
Chen Wei-ren worked for KMT lawmaker Chen Shu-hui between 2009 and 2010. The latter is now the deputy mayor of Taiwan’s Chiayi City.
Chen Shui-hui also hired Lin as her legislative aide between 2009 and 2010. Prior to that, Lin worked as an aide to former lawmaker Cheng Chin-ting from 2005 to 2008.
The last high-profile espionage case was in March 2019, when two retired Taiwanese lieutenant colonels were sentenced to a six-month prison term and a fine of NT$180,000 (about $5,820), after being found guilty of attempting to collect Taiwan’s military secrets for Beijing.
Hsu Chih-chieh, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), told the Taiwan branch of The Epoch Times that national security is of utmost importance for the island, and anyone who sabotages it should be severely punished.
Independent lawmaker Freddy Lim told local media that Taiwan needs to impose more rigorous checks on people that could come across sensitive government information, since Beijing uses different techniques to infiltrate the island.
As the local investigation continues, prosecutors could charge the three men under different local laws.
For instance, under the national security law, people found guilty of passing on confidential information to China could be sentenced to more than seven years in prison with a fine of NT$50 million to NT$100 million (about $1.7 million to $3.4 million).
Taiwan’s criminal law has different articles on treason. For example, people found guilty of leaking documents or information related to the island’s national defense could be sentenced between one and seven years.