Taipei, Seven people suspected of being behind the disappearance of 148 Vietnamese nationals who arrived in Taiwan as "tourists" last month have been arrested, a National Immigration Agency (NIA) official said Monday.
Among the individuals arrested, the three main suspects are suspected of being snakeheads and involved in human trafficking while four were cash mules, said Hsieh Wen-chung head of the NIA's Southern Taiwan Administration Corps.
The seven will be handed over to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors Office for investigation into suspected violations of the Immigration Act, the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, the Criminal Code and the Employment Service Act, according to Hsieh.
The NIA and police authorities are also pursuing four of their accomplices in Vietnam through the international judicial assistance system and will continue to look for others involved in the case, Hsieh said.
The 148 Vietnamese nationals arrived on group tours in Taiwan on Dec. 21 and 23 before leaving their groups and disappearing.
Law enforcement authorities suspected they came to Taiwan to find work illegally, and those suspicions have been confirmed by some of the 88 Vietnamese who have been apprehended or turned themselves in to date, the NIA said.
The other 60 Vietnamese who left their tour groups remain unaccounted for, according to the agency.
After an investigation, the NIA found that the snakehead ring in Taiwan, led by natives of Vietnam, collaborated with a Vietnamese snakehead ring to offer Vietnamese the chance to work in Taiwan, Hsieh said.
Working with small travel agencies, the Vietnamese ring told potential recruits it could get them into Taiwan on tourist visas and arrange jobs for them for a price of US$1,000-US$3,000, Hsieh said.
Once enough people were recruited, the ring had International Holidays Trading Travel in Vietnam arrange the group's travel under Taiwan's "Kuan Hung" program that makes it easier for groups of five or more tourists from some Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, to get tourist visas.
The bigger Vietnamese travel agent was needed because only travel agencies approved by Taiwan's Tourism Bureau, such as International Holidays, can apply for group tourist visas through the Kuan Hung plan.
The NIA official said some of the Vietnamese went into debt or sold their land in rural areas to pay the high fees to come to Taiwan, only to become victims of human-smuggling and even sexual exploitation.
According to the NIA investigation, most of the jobs assigned to the men were to harvest tea or grow fruit, while the jobs arranged for women were as home caregivers or prostitutes.
Those targeted to work in the sex trade were told they would make NT$1,800 to NT$3,500 (US$58-US$113) per transaction, with the ring taking a cut. One of the three main suspects was found to be taking NT$1,000 to NT$1,500 of each transaction and sometimes even the entire amount, the NIA said.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel