TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Customs officials confirmed Tuesday the largest heroin haul in U.S. history was transported through the southern Taiwan port of Kaohsiung.
In interviews with local media, Kaohsiung Customs Bureau officials said 1,080 pounds of heroin hidden in a shipment of plastic bags from Thailand and bound for San Francisco sat in a Taiwan container center for two weeks in April.
Fifty-nine boxes filled with heroin among 2,700 boxes of plastic bags were shipped in two containers aboard an American President Lines vessel.
U.S. agents, following a month-long undercover investigation, seized the drugs Friday at a warehouse in Hayward, Calif., leased to two Taiwan businessmen brothers, Mike Jui-ming Chen and Jim Jui-chang Chen.
The brothers, their wives and a fifth person have been charged in San Francisco with drug smuggling.
U.S. Customs agents arrested Mike Jui-ming Chen Saturday outside Boston and he was ordered held without bail.
Jim Jui-chang Chen and the wives of the two brothers were among four people arrested arrested at the California warehouse Friday, along with Taiwan resident, Lu Chin Sheng, 36.
In 1989, a 793-pound heroin bust, the second largest in U.S. history, was also transhipped from Taiwan.
While Taiwan is reputed to have among the strictest customs security procedures in the world, officials said containers in transit are not commonly searched.
According to Tao Rui-hsiang, director of the Kaohsiung Customs Bureau, customs declarations and other formalities for the two containers registered to the local Chung Yan Trading Co. were in order.
Tao also said the containers had first been shipped from Taiwan to Thailand, and then returned to Taiwan, leading to speculation the drugs might originally have been loaded in Taiwan.
He said an investigation was under way to determine how the heroin left Taiwan undetected.
Taiwan law enforcement officials have refused to discuss the case with the press, saying only they have contacted concerned U.S. agencies and are cooperating in an investigation of the case.