- Joburg councilor Michael Sun is mentioned in a Taiwanese publication in connection with an investigation into pet trafficking in Taipei.
- He is named with three others who have been charged with allegedly driving up the cost of exporting wildlife from Africa.
- Sun said he has not been approached by Taiwanese or local authorities, nor has he seen an arrest warrant.
Johannesburg City Councilor Michael Sun said he had not been contacted by authorities after a media report alleged that he had been under arrest warrant in connection with an investigation into animal trafficking in Taiwan.
He noted “with concern” how “this issue is strangely surfacing and the story being manipulated to claim that I was arrested here during a time of heightened political tension in Johannesburg”.
According to a report by Focus Taiwan TBEN English News last week, three people, including prominent Taiwanese TV host Tian-yi Lee, were charged with inflating the cost of exporting wildlife from Africa to Wanpi World Safari Zoo in July 2020 .
Lee, her husband Jen-chieh Kuo and Lee Tony were charged by the Taipei prosecutor’s office with “breach of trust” for making illegal profits.
The article stated that prosecutors had also issued a warrant for Sun’s arrest for his alleged involvement in the case.
Sun said in a statement Tuesday: “I have not been approached by Taiwanese authorities abroad, the Taipei Liaison Office in South Africa, the South African Police or the National Prosecutor regarding any arrest. I also have not seen any official documentation regarding the allegations contained in the foreign media report or an arrest warrant issued against me.
“As such,” he said, “I can’t comment on an arrest warrant that I haven’t seen.”
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According to Focus Taiwan, Lee was asked by zoo owner Rong-hua Chang for help importing African wildlife because she had worked on productions in Africa and had the contacts. She resigned in February over the allegations.
Sun is said to have helped a Taiwanese businessman in Africa set up a registered company to export animals. The businessman had a contract with Chang to import animals into Taiwan, the contract cost was $5.46 million (about R95 million) with an additional $890,000 (R15 million) for the establishment of the company.
The article claimed that Sun received $264,000 (about R4.5 million) of the $890,000 in March last year.
Sun, the head of the city infrastructure and environmental department, is a commercial attorney with more than 20 years of experience. He returned to private practice in 2019 after his term as a public safety MMC ended.
He said that from 2020 to 2021, he acted as legal counsel to a foreign company that wanted to purchase wild animals from Eswatini destined for a zoo in Taiwan.
“If there is indeed an arrest warrant, even if I have committed no crime, I will gladly submit to an investigation or acquiesce to a statement regarding the charges. In order to respect the progress of the foreign legal process, I will not comment further on the matter. This will not affect my work or the work of the multi-party government,” he said.
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“I have confided in my leadership in this matter. I note with concern how this issue is strangely surfacing and the story being manipulated to claim that I was arrested here during a time of heightened political tension in Johannesburg.”
Smaragda Louw, chairman of Ban Animal Trading (Bat), an NPO that counters the sale of animals, said South Africa regularly traded wild animals with Taiwan. She said the export included frogs; turtles, including the native leopard tortoise and the angulate tortoise; employ; many species of birds, including African gray parrots; and giraffe.
She said South Africa was also a popular destination for hunting exotic animals, as these animals were not protected by South African law.
“In 2019, we had the export of tiger skin and bones. These and lion bones are now not allowed for trade. But because there is no law to protect exotic animals – there is an animal cruelty law that offers little protection – [and] because there is no regulation for animals like tigers, people would come here to shoot them [for sport] even though they are a CITES 1 protected animal.”
CITES Appendix 1 lists the most endangered species.
Louw said if the allegations about Sun were true, she would be shocked because his political party, the DA, is “the only party that sees animals as living beings”.