LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former tycoon who was one of Taiwan's most wanted fugitives was in the middle of a decade-long fight to stay in the United States when he was killed in a California car accident, federal court records show.
Wang You-theng was ordered removed from the U.S. last year after spending nearly a decade in Southern California. The 89-year-old Wang filed an appeal of that order in December and was waiting to argue his case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Wang was killed in a Friday morning crash on a highway in West Covina, California, about an hour outside Los Angeles, according to Taiwan's Foreign Ministry. His wife had burns to her left shoulder and arm but was stable, according to California Highway Patrol.
Wang was a passenger in one of five cars involved in the crash on the busy freeway. The car Wang was in, driven by his wife, was one of three to catch fire in the wreck, believed to be caused by a pickup that sideswiped one car before rear-ending another and causing a chain reaction, according to California Highway Patrol.
Wang founded Rebar in 1959 to build steel beams and made a fortune from the business. But when Rebar sank into financial difficulties in 2006, Wang fled Taiwan and eventually arrived in the United States.
Wang had been indicted on a long list of charges, including fraud, money laundering and insider trading. Wang and his family were accused of siphoning off more than $9 billion in Rebar assets.
The documents associated with Wang's removal order from last year are sealed, and it's unclear what Wang's arguments to stay were.
Wang left Taiwan in December 2006 with his wife, after which officials in Taipei issued a warrant for his arrest.
At the time, Taiwanese media reported that Wang flew to San Francisco after staying several days in the Chinese city of Shanghai.
The U.S. and Taiwan do not have formal diplomatic ties or an extradition treaty and the Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to questions about efforts made to have Wang returned to the island.
However, a statement issued by the ministry in January 2007 said it had provided U.S. law enforcement with evidence of Wang's alleged crimes under a 2002 agreement on mutual assistance in criminal matters. The U.S. could use to the information to "decide whether the illegal actions of the party involved posed a threat to U.S. interests," the statement said, specifically citing allegations of money laundering.
Three months after his arrival in the U.S., Wang flew from Los Angeles to Singapore in what Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said was an attempt by Wang to reach Myanmar and go into hiding there. Singapore authorities returned Wang to Los Angeles, where he was held in an immigration detention center for six months before he was released in August 2007.
Wang was released after an immigration judge ruled that federal authorities wrongly arrested him, according to media accounts and the time and Wayne McMillan, an attorney who said he represented Wang between 2007 and last year.
The judge found that Wang had never left the U.S. since he hadn't been admitted to another country.