On Feb. 1, 2013, Taipei District Court Judge Zheng Yu-ren (鄭昱仁) declared an end to preparatory proceedings in the civil suit filed by two Formosa Plastic Group (FPG) affiliates against Prof. Tsuang Ben-jei for harm to their reputations. This marks the end of a preparatory proceeding period which has lasted nearly 10 months for a total of six hearings. Pending confirmation of some materials by both sides, a date will soon be set for oral arguments.
Before the final preparatory hearing, more than fifty supporters from different Taiwanese environmental groups gathered before the court building for a press conference. They expressed serious concern over the FPG affiliates' actions and attitude toward freedom of speech and environmental issues.
Early last year, the Formosa Chemicals & Fiber Corporation (台灣化學纖維股份有限公司) and Mailiao Power Corporation (麥寮汽電股份有限公司), both Formosa Plastic Group (FPG) affiliates, filed a civil action as well as a criminal complaint against Prof. Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔教授) for making public statements which they claimed harmed their reputation.
Dr. Tsuang, a member of Chung Hsing University's Department of Environmental Engineering faculty, stated on several public occasions that emissions from the FPG's sixth naphtha cracking plant were correlated with increased cancer rates among residents of the surrounding area based on a study investigating emissions on factories in Taichung and Yunlin County. The Formosa Chemicals & Fiber Corporation and Mailiao Power Corporation, both FPG affiliates, filed Taiwan's first civil action by a corporation against an academic for making public statements; the corporations also requested damages of NT$40 million.
One of the main issues to be decided is whether Dr. Tsuang's statement "To date, the sixth naphtha cracker's has no meaningful data on its own flue emissions" was a 'description of fact' or an 'opinion,' and whether it constitutes a violation of rights. Over the past five preparatory hearings, the judge has repeatedly asked for data on detection of emissions from the 387 flue chimneys, but the FPG affiliates' legal team has consistently responded by saying that all necessary materials have already been submitted to the court, furthermore demanding that the court request the Environmental Protection Administration to approve the methods used in the academic study.
During the hearing, the judge advised that the burden of proof for proving the statement false lay with the plaintiff, saying that he respected the companies' decision not to submit the requested documentation, but warned that it would affect the judgment. The FPG affiliates' evasive attitude is unlikely to help their cause, as their refusal to submit any documentation only gives credence to Dr. Tsuang's statements.
The companies have also twice filed a criminal complaint of aggravated defamation against Tsuang. The Taipei District Prosecutor's Office rejected the second criminal complaint at the end of November, 2013, finding insufficient grounds for indictment. The attorney for the FPG affiliates has indicated, however, that they will ask the Taiwan High Prosecutor's Office for a review of the decision.
Throughout these legal proceedings, Prof. Tsuang has received legal assistance from the legal teams of Primodial Law Firm (元貞聯合法律事務所) and Lord's International Law Office (育群國際法律事務所), and has also received staunch support from Taiwan’s environmental NGOs and academic societies.