A Taichung-based music teacher on Wednesday was questioned for allegedly spreading rumors online that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and other officials at a Cabinet meeting had eaten extravagant lunchboxes that cost nearly NT$7,000 each, the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) said yesterday.
The 51-year-old man surnamed Liao (廖) faces charges of contravening the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) by “spreading rumors in a way that is sufficient to undermine public order and peace,” CIB Seventh Investigation Corps Deputy Captain Hsu Chao-pin (徐釗斌) said.
Investigators reviewing social media records to determine where the rumor had started found that Liao’s post on Facebook on Friday last week was the earliest to claim that Tsai and Cabinet officials had eaten the luxury seafood lunch, Hsu said.
Photo: Screen grab from a video posted on Facebook
A screen grab of the post showed a photograph of a tree-layer wooden lunchbox packed with seafood items, accompanied by text allegedly written by Liao.
“This is at the Tsai government’s Cabinet meeting, and the lunchboxes they were eating are full of delicacies,” Liao reportedly wrote.
The post also alleged that the food came from a luxury restaurant in Taipei.
“It’s stacked in three layers, each with 17 items, and enough food for four to six people. One set is priced at NT$8,880, but currently available at a special price of NT$6,980,” the post said.
“The Tsai government spends money extravagantly. In the past, under Lien Chan (連戰) [of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)], they had NT$500 lunchboxes for Cabinet meetings, and were condemned with accusations that they were out of touch regarding the suffering of average people... So how about the Tsai government?” the post said.
Lien was premier from 1993 to 1997 and vice president from 1996 to 2000 under then president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).
“There was no such lunchbox at the Cabinet meeting. It was fake news,” Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said on Tuesday.
“Taiwan is an open and free society, and people can be creative, but they must not spread fake news, and must not breach the law by smearing someone’s good reputation. If such a rumor has contravened the law, then the judiciary should prosecute those who spread them,” Su said.
Liao denied having political motives in making the post, and said he saw the photo and message on other social media sites, the CIB said.
“The lunchbox looked delicious, and I just wanted to share the picture with my friends... It was unintentional and was not based on my personal political stance,” the CIB quoted him as saying.
The bureau’s investigation determined that Liao was most likely the originator of the rumor, Hsu said, adding that Liao had also posted on Facebook pages that show support for KMT and pan-blue camps.
“We have asked Liao to remove the post, and urge people not to produce, disseminate and share such disinformation and rumors on social media, as they would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Hsu said.
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