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Liu Case Intrigue : County Quietly Searched for Mystry Murder Tape

January 16, 1985|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

For the past seven weeks, FBI agents and San Francisco-area police detectives have quietly searched the Chinese communities of Los Angeles County for clues to the whereabouts of a mysterious tape recording said to reveal new details in the slaying of San Francisco journalist Henry Liu.

The possible existence of a tape-recorded confession by Chen Chi-li, the Taiwanese leader of the United Bamboo gang wanted in the United States in connection with the Liu murder, was considered so sensitive a lead that Bay Area authorities never contacted local law enforcement agencies about their inquiries here--a courtesy typically extended by visiting police agencies.

But their journey into the shadowy world of the United Bamboo gang has so far proved fruitless. After questioning two dozen Chinese businessmen and reputed Chinese underworld figures in Monterey Park, San Gabriel and Alhambra, police investigators say they have not found the recording nor anyone who admits to hearing it.

"We've exhausted a number of . . . leads, but we're still looking," said Police Detective Michael Scott of Daly City, the San Francisco suburb where Liu resided and was shot to death Oct. 15. "I'm convinced there is a tape. There's no doubt in my mind. Finding it may be our last chance at tying this whole thing together."

The quest for the tape recording, which police believe may detail the plot and motive for the Liu murder, adds another layer of intrigue to a crime already shrouded in international mystery.

It has taken on new urgency in recent days with reports that Chen has confessed to Taiwan authorities from his jail cell in Taipei and has implicated at least one Taiwanese intelligence officer in the plot. Police believe the recording may provide further links to high officials in the Taiwanese government.

According to wire service reports from Taiwan, the officer alleged by Chen to have a role in in the murder works for the intelligence bureau of the Defense Ministry. That bureau is headed by Wong Shih-ling, a two-star admiral who once served as military attache for the Taiwanese delegation in Washington.

Taiwan authorities announced Tuesday that they had relieved Wong of his duties, arrested and jailed one of his subordinates in connection with the Liu murder and appointed a special commission to investigate the bureau's possible role in the killing, according to the official Taiwan news agency.

State Department spokesman Alan Romberg said in Washington on Tuesday that the possible involvement of members of the intelligence organization was a "serious matter. The Taiwan authorities appear to appreciate the seriousness of the case," he added.

Suspicion on Timing The timing of Taiwan's announcement, however, has aroused suspicion among some local Chinese who say the arrest and investigation came only after the contents of Chen's purported tape recording were leaked last week to a pro-Peking newspaper in Hong Kong.

They argue that the announcement may be Taiwan's way of defusing the situation and protecting high government authorities connected to the Liu murder. For this reason, they say, finding Chen's tape recording--if it exists--is critical and may be the only way of discovering the truth.

Police believe it is possible that only parts of Chen's recording were released to the Wen Wei Po newspaper, with the more explosive sections held back as a bargaining chip by United Bamboo leaders in Taiwan anxious to ensure their leader's safety.

Chen's tape recording, according to a Jan. 9 article in Wen Wei Po, asserted that Taiwanese authorities had ordered Liu killed because he was disloyal to the nation and to the ruling Chiang family. Liu, who moved to the United States 17 years ago from Taiwan, wrote numerous articles and a book critical of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang Party and President Chiang Ching-kuo.

Local police note that the Chinese community and its press in the United States are often fiercely divided along pro-Taiwan, pro-China lines with each side looking for opportunities to turn rumors into propaganda points. Monterey Park Police Chief Jon D. Elder believes the existence of a tape recording by Chen Chi-li is another example of a rumor elevated to fact by the Chinese-language press.

"There's an endless propaganda war out there between Taiwan and Peking," Elder said. "On top of that, the Chinese community here is fraught with rumors. If I had to bet, I'd say the tape is just one more rumor."

But Daly City police investigators--who have worked closely on the case with FBI agents in San Francisco and Los Angeles--believe that the tape exists and are continuing their search for it, even while acknowledging that obtaining the recording would present a whole set of new problems with verification.

A leader of United Bamboo in Southern California, who says he met with Chen in Los Angeles both before and after the shooting, said police were correct in assuming a tape recording exists.

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