Cops search Nippon Ham units

Sales chiefs' homes, business arm also targeted in probe

OSAKA — Police in Hyogo, Ehime and Tokushima prefectures on Monday searched three regional sales offices of a Nippon Meat Packers Inc. subsidiary and related locations in connection with their probe into the beef mislabeling scandal.

Police also searched the home of one of the three former heads of sales of the subsidiary, Nippon Food Inc., and the office of the subsidiary’s business unit, Kansai Co.

The home of Seiji Morii, 46, former head of the sales office in Tokushima Prefecture, was searched.

The Osaka head office of Nippon Meat, better known as Nippon Ham, as well as the homes of the two other former heads — Shunji Tanaka, 55, of the Himeji office, and Yoshinobu Igaue, 40, of the Ehime Prefecture sales office — were to be searched Tuesday, police sources said.

All three have been fired by Nippon Food.

Nippon Food is suspected of trying to defraud the government of some 10 million yen in subsidies by passing off imported beef as domestic under a government program to buy back domestic beef that was introduced after last year’s outbreak of mad cow disease.

Police will also try to determine the extent of Nippon Meat’s involvement in the abuse of the buyback program and were to search the firm’s head office Tuesday, police sources said.

Nippon Meat, better known as Nippon Ham, has admitted its subsidiary falsely labeled imported beef as domestic.

The three executives have maintained they acted independently, denying that Nippon Ham’s head office was directly involved.

According to criminal complaints filed against them, the three ordered employees to repackage about 4.3 tons of imported beef as domestic in October and November and submitted about 14 tons of beef, including the falsely labeled imported meat, to the Japan Ham & Sausage Processors Cooperative Association to claim the subsidies.

The Himeji office is suspected of falsely labeling about half a ton of beef, the Ehime office about 3.5 tons and the Tokushima office some 300 kg.

The fraud surfaced Aug. 6. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry filed criminal complaints against the three former office heads on Sept. 12.

It is the third probe of firms in connection with false labeling of beef under the buyback program. Snow Brand Foods Co. and Nippon Shokuhin Co. of Fukuoka Prefecture have also been accused of fraud under the program. Snow Brand Foods has since disbanded.