The Chiayi District Prosecutors’ Office on Friday charged 16 people with dealing drugs and demanded life imprisonment for the group’s alleged ringleader.
The prosecutors accused Yeh Hsiang-hung (葉翔浤) of heading what they called a “cannabis empire” by establishing sales and distribution networks, and selling “cannabis business franchises” to young people.
The suspects are accused of contravening the Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act (毒品危害防制條例) and other criminal charges.
The prosecutors seized NT$26.9 million (US$959,755) in cash and bank deposits that they said were illicitly gained from sales of cannabis.
Targeting Yeh’s alleged organization, police officers in May raided 33 locations in the Chiayi City area and found 2,615 cannabis plants and 21.7kg of dried cannabis products.
The street value of the seized drugs was estimated at NT$1 billion, which the authorities at the time said was a record haul for cannabis products seized in the nation.
Police at the time presented the seized materials, which Yeh allegedly marketed under the “Mountain Highs” brand and kept in containers labeled “herbal remedy.”
Each container held 10g of cannabis, and Yeh and his distributors allegedly charged NT$500 per gram, police said.
Chiayi District Prosecutor Lee Peng-cheng (李鵬程), who headed the investigation, called Yeh “the big drug lord of central and southern Taiwan.”
In addition to life in prison, Lee asked that the court fine Yeh NT$15 million for “causing indescribable damage to the health of our citizens and endangering social stability.”
However, prosecutors asked for lighter terms for the other suspects, saying they have admitted to breaking the law, cooperated with the investigation and displayed good attitude during questioning.
Yeh allegedly started cultivating cannabis plants in 2017 and launched his sales network shortly after, prosecutors said.
He allegedly sent his distributors mostly to nightclubs and entertainment venues in the greater Taipei area to find customers, they said.
Yeh also allegedly offered cannabis cultivation “franchises” to people in exchange for NT$1.8 million, prosecutors said.
He promoted the illicit venture as a profitable investment and offered price guarantees to buy cannabis products from growers, they said.
In his defense, Yeh said he was providing “traditional herbal remedies” to people with terminal illness to alleviate their pain and that his venture aimed to help people.