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Contraband
12/20/2010

Seattle businessman sentenced for importing tainted Chinese honey

Some of the barrels of imported tainted Chinese honey
Some of the barrels of imported tainted Chinese honey

SEATTLE - The former president of a Seattle-area import company was sentenced to one year plus one day in prison and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution after an investigation by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) revealed he imported contaminated honey from China.

Chung Po Liu, 70, of Bellevue, Wash., pleaded guilty in August guilty to federal charges of entry of goods by means of false statements, and introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. At the conclusion of his prison sentence, Liu will also be required to serve six months of home detention as part of a one-year term of supervised release.

Liu was a corporate officer and former president of Rainier Cascade, an import company registered with the U.S. government, as well as the president of Evergreen Produce Inc., a business that sells and transports honey imported by Rainier Cascade. Over a three-year period starting in late 2005, Liu admitted to importing 22 shipments of honey from Changge Jixiang Bee Products Company Limited, a honey factory in Henan, China.

The ICE HSI investigation revealed that Liu purchased honey from Changge Jixiang and had it shipped to the Philippines or Thailand. The honey was re-labeled there to make it appear it was a product from these countries.

When the honey arrived in the United States, Liu submitted documents to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) falsely claiming that the imported honey was produced in Thailand or the Philippines, when in fact it originated in China. In April 2008, federal authorities seized several of Liu's honey shipments at three locations, including the Port of Seattle, a Seattle warehouse and a honey processing plant in Sultan, Wash.

Subsequent tests by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined much of the honey was adulterated with the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin. This antibiotic, often found in Chinese honey, is an unsafe additive and is banned from the U.S. food supply.

According to the plea agreement, Liu admits that he avoided paying in excess of $2.9 million in anti-dumping duties over three years. The duty on Chinese honey was 183 percent in 2001 and was raised to 221 percent in 2007.

"In an attempt to avoid paying millions of dollars in anti-dumping import duties, the defendant not only misled the federal government, he knowingly deceived the American public by allowing shipments of tainted Chinese honey, which contained banned substances, to enter our nation's food supply," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Seattle. "Today's prison sentence is a fitting end to an investigation that required dedicated investigative work in Seattle and the collaboration of several countries half-way around the world. HSI will continue its efforts to deter this type of illegal activity in the future."

Liu is named, but not charged, in a parallel investigation in the Northern District of Illinois. An indictment in that case alleges that the German-based food conglomerate Alfred L. Wolff GmbH was among five other German and Chinese companies whose employees conspired to avoid paying more than $80 million in Chinese honey customs duties.

During the course of these HSI investigations, federal authorities have seized more than 3,200 drums of honey in Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., Minneapolis and the Chicago area.

ICE HSI was assisted in this investigation by the Port of Seattle Police Department, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, CBP Office of Field Operations, and the ICE attache offices in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Manila.