The Taiwanese firm involved in the toxic-waste dumping case in Sihanoukville has been implicated in a US White House campaign finance scandal, according to a scathing report by a coalition of environmental groups.
The groups have asked US Attorney General Janet Reno and congressman Dan Burton, chairman of the US House of Representatives Government Oversight Committee, to investigate Formosa Plastics Inc in relation to campaign finance issues and regulatory leniency.
“Formosa Plastics officials are adept at manipulating politicians and political processes to avoid true public accountability, and to maximize profits, even at the risk to public or worker safety,” said the report, released last week.
Formosa officials could not be reached for comment.
According to evidence cited in the report, Winston Wang, vice president of a key Formosa subsidiary Nan Ya Plastics, may have illegally channeled as much as $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee through Yah Lin “Charlie” Trie, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance abuse charges earlier this year.
The report questions whether Formosa’s alleged campaign contributions were to gain regulatory leniency or approval for projects in the US states of South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana.
The group also said in its report that Formosa Plastics and its subsidiary have paid more than $4 million in fines since the 1980s in Texas, Lousiana and Delaware for failing to comply with environmental laws.
In addition, about 30 lawsuits were filed in the 1980s against Formosa Plastics’ Texas plant, accusing the company of demanding favors and money for contractors to work on a $1.3 billion expansion project, according to the report. In a letter to the FBI, the company admitted kickbacks had taken place after contractors began complaining.
Formosa became well known in Cambodia late last year after nearly 3,000 tons of mercury-tainted waste produced by the company was shipped from Taiwan to Cambodia. The scandal resulted in alleged illnesses, the suspension of dozens of government officials, riots and an exodus of thousands of people from Sihanoukville.
Funcinpec officials said shortly after the dump was discovered that Prince Norodom Ranariddh was informed that a $3 million bribe had been paid to officials to allow the waste into Cambodia.
Formosa officials denied the bribery allegations.
Although no Formosa officials were charged in the case, two Taiwanese from the shipping company under contract by Formosa were convicted and sentenced in absentia to five years in prison and ordered to pay fines totaling $480,000.
The toxic waste has since been shipped back to Taiwan. Various US-based operations are now under consideration for disposal of the waste, including facilities in Nevada, Idaho and Texas.
Steven Iddings, an environmental engineer with the World Health Organization in Cambodia, said Formosa’s activities in the US are expected given its reputation in Cambodia. “Their record here is no good, so it’s not a surprise they have a bad record elsewhere,” he said.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen who negotiated with Formosa after the toxic-waste scandal was made public, declined to comment on the US report. “We are not Taiwanese and we are not the US government,” he said.
Ang Vong Vathana, director of cabinet for co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, said he was not aware of Formosa’s background and was a little bit surprised that the company had an extensive list of allegations against it. “I don’t know anything about this,” he said.