The Ministry of Finance is attempting to downplay a duty-free cigarette smuggling scandal by fining China Pacific Catering Services only NT$150,000 (US$4,776) for its role in the incident, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus said yesterday.

The ministry, which oversees the Customs Administration, invoked a “painless” article in the Customs Anti-smuggling Act (海關緝私條例) and imposed the “lenient” fine on the grounds that the China Airlines subsidiary had “moved freight without permission,” KMT caucus deputy secretary-general Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) told a news conference in Taipei.

The move harks back to a controversial remark by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) days after the scandal came to light that officials complicit in it had “bought excessive amounts” of cigarettes, as both were aimed at blurring the definition of smuggling and were attempts to downplay the scandal, Ko said.

The Customs Administration this month said that it had dealt with a cigarette smuggling case involving fishers, in which 334 cartons were discovered, but applied a double standard in the case allegedly involving members of Tsai’s administration, Ko said.

Smuggling is a crime punishable by a fine of up to three times the value of the smuggled goods, she said, citing the act, adding that by the administration’s logic, assault could be interpreted as “moving one’s fists without permission” and sexual harassment “moving others’ bodies without permission.”

The ministry must correct its decision, or the caucus would file a complaint with the Control Yuan against Minister of Finance Su Jain-rong (蘇建榮) for dereliction of duty, Ko said, adding that the ministry could be attempting to influence judicial personnel investigating the case with the lenient punishment.

KMT Legislator Lin Te-fu (林德福) said that the fine was an attempt to mislead people and asked whether Tsai, who has vowed to “get to the bottom” of the case, intends to go easy on alleged culprits.

Article 46 of the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act (菸酒管理法) stipulates that “storage of smuggled cigarettes or alcohol is punishable by a fine of one to five times the value of the contraband, or a maximum fine of NT$6 million,” Lin said.

KMT Legislator Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) said that the fine was based on an assumption that the incident had faded from the public’s memory, which shows that there are no limits to the shamelessness of the Democratic Progressive Party.

The Customs Administration denied that it had gone easy on China Pacific Catering Services, saying that it handed the company the maximum fine stipulated in the anti-smuggling act over negligence in managing the warehouse allegedly used to store smuggled cigarettes.

It would mete out further punishments based on other infractions on the part of the company should the investigation uncover more evidence, the administration said.

Additional reporting by Wu Chi-lun