Chang Ku Fung
ONE OF two Taiwanese men convicted in absentia on June 17 for "conspiring to
damage the environment" in connection with the dumping of mercury-tainted toxic
waste in Sihanoukville last December dismisses his conviction as "ridiculous".
In an exclusive interview with the Phnom Penh Post last Friday in Taipei, Mr Chang
Ku Fung, an employee of the Jade Fortune International import/export company, insisted
that both he and his colleague, Kao Chia Song, were innocent of any wrongdoing in
the Sihanoukville dumping.
Chang and Kao were both sentenced to five years' imprisonment and fines of US$500,000.
"I'm not guilty of what the Cambodian government said I did," Chang insisted.
"The ruling of the [Cambodian] court was totally unfair."
Chang disputed assertions by Cambodian court officials who claimed to have attempted
to have contacted Chang and Kao about their trial.
"I didn't know anything about [the trial]," he said. "I found out
about my conviction while watching the evening news."
According to legal experts in Phnom Penh, protests by the People's Republic of China
(PRC), which last year prevented official contacts between the Cambodian government
and Taiwan's Environmental Protection Agency over the waste issue, probably spilled
over to affect the Cambodian Ministry of Justice's handling of the trial of the two
Unlike Taiwan, the PRC enjoys full diplomatic relations with Cambodia and considers
Taiwan a "rebel province" deserving of no separate international representation
of any kind.
According to Chang, the Cambodian prosecutors' charges that he and Kao had duped
Cambodian customs officials into accepting the mercury-laced incinerator waste, described
as "cement cake" on export documents, were completely false.
"Look at the agreement that we made with Formosa Plastics to ship the waste
[to Cambodia]," Chang says, pointing to a section of the Chinese-language document
that describes the waste as "non-toxic".
"That's what Formosa Plastics told us, that [the waste] was non-toxic,"
Chang protested. "It was [Formosa's] responsibility to tell us the precise and
truthful nature of what the waste really was ... they're the one's who are at fault."
In the eyes of the Taiwanese government, Chang is absolutely correct. An investigation
by Taiwanese authorities of the circumstances behind the toxic waste shipment from
Taiwan to Cambodia exonerated Jade Fortune International of any wrongdoing.
Formosa Plastics, however, was fined by the Taiwanese government.
Chang describes the treatment of four Cambodians tried along with Chang and Kao as
"Those three Cambodian officials were acquitted, while the representative of
Muth Vuthy Import Co was sentenced to only seven months," Chang said. "It's
strange that two Taiwanese got far heavier sentences than those men."
Chang blames his conviction on Jade Fortune International's "mishandling"
contact with a representative of the Cambodian government who visited Taiwan in January
to negotiate official compensation.
"We were asked to come to a meeting in Taipei with someone from the Cambodian
government and representatives of Formosa Plastics," Chang said.
"But our legal advisor told us we had no [legal] responsibility and needn't
go [to the meeting] ... [but] if we'd paid some money, we might have avoided [being
Chang also questions the actual toxicity level of the waste dumped in Sihanoukville.
While testing by the World Health Organization last December found concentrations
of mercury 40,000 times higher than permissible levels, Chang remains skeptical.
"[The waste] really wasn't that dangerous," he insisted.
The lack of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Taiwan make Chang's arrest
and extradition seem remote.
While Chang travels frequently as part of his job, he is confident that he'll stay
out of the clutches of the Cambodian legal system.
"I have an American passport," he says in response to a question about
the safety of traveling to countries that have extradition agreements with Cambodia.
According to Chang, his American passport bears a name quite different from that
of his Chinese name familiar to Cambodian authorities, making his arrest and extradition
even more unlikely.
Chang instead expresses concern about the fate of his Cambodian translator, Phang
Phoeung, who received the same sentence as Chang and Kao. Chang refused to supply
the Post with Phoeung's contact information, explaining that he was "in hiding".
"I feel sorry for him," Chang said of his translator. "He was just
helping us and got paid just a little bit of money... It's very unfair."