AWOL Taiwanese intelligence officer charged with desertion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 5:00am

A Taiwanese military intelligence officer who went AWOL and unsuccessfully sought political asylum in Britain has been indicted on desertion charges.

Yeh Mei, 33, a lieutenant with the Military Intelligence Agency, had been put on Taiwan's wanted list after failing to return for duty following an overseas trip in 2012.

Yeh confessed to seeking permission from her superior for a sightseeing trip to Thailand with the intention of deserting.

She was reportedly unhappy about gathering intelligence from places such as Hong Kong, and fled to Britain via Bangkok in June 2012.

The offence is punishable by a maximum five-year jail term.

According to Taiwanese media, Yeh had complained that her colleagues were hostile to her and that her repeated attempts to leave the military had been rejected by her boss.

She had claimed she could be sentenced to death and sought political asylum with the British authorities, but the bid was rejected and she was deported last month for overstaying her visa.

When Yeh first disappeared, there was speculation in Taiwanese media that she may have become a spy for Beijing.

Taiwan's Military Intelligence Agency attributed Yeh's disappearance to "personal factors".

British media reported that Yeh was uncomfortable with what she was being asked to do.

"They were asking me to do stuff like gathering intelligence, especially gathering intelligence from China, Hong Kong and Macau," The Independent newspaper quoted her as saying.

She asked for an internal transfer or be allowed to resign but was denied. The authorities then punished her by restricting her liberty, Yeh said.

"I was like an example to all my colleagues, like this is what you get if you go against the government or go against the nature of our work," she said.

"My speech was being restricted. My travel was being restricted. It was like I'm not a human being any more."

Yeh's lawyer, Mike McGarvey, said his client was never likely to win asylum because Taiwan was seen as a friendly country.

At the time she was deported, a Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and all applications are carefully considered before a decision is made.

"We believe that those who fail to establish a genuine fear of persecution should return home. If they do not, we will enforce their removal."

Taiwan has been rocked by a spate of espionage scandals in recent years, reflecting the fact that intelligence gathering has continued despite warming ties with the Chinese mainland under Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.