OSAKA – A former chairman of Osaka meat packer Hannan Corp. has told prosecutors he collected information about the government’s beef-buyback plan from lawmakers and bureaucrats and was aware of the program’s details before it was implemented, according to investigative sources.
Mitsuru Asada told prosecutors that it was while he was looking into the program that he came up with the idea of falsely labeling beef to fraudulently obtain government subsidies, sources said.
Asada, 65, has been indicted on three counts by the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office. He is suspected of involvement in fraud totaling about 5 billion yen in beef subsidies.
With the Osaka prosecutors and prefectural police having wrapped up their investigations into the fraud, they are now seeking to determine how Asada obtained massive profits from the scheme.
Asada has told investigators he defrauded the government because he “wanted money that he can use freely,” the sources said Saturday.
The buyback program was launched in October 2001 to help meat distributors affected by the mad cow disease scare that broke out the previous month.
The government commissioned the All Japan Meat Industry Cooperative Associations and five other entities to buy unsold domestic beef stocks and incinerate them.
The sources quoted Asada as telling prosecutors he gathered the information from lawmakers with whom he was friendly as well as bureaucrats, including a former meat coordinator of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.
The meat coordinator has denied granting any favors to Asada.
Asada has told investigators he first met with the coordinator around 1988 and maintained friendly ties with him.
The sources said that in mid-October 2001, just before the details of the program were made public, Asada learned that the cows subject to the subsidies were domestic cattle slaughtered just before inspections on all domestic cattle began Oct. 18, 2001.
Around the same time, he and other executives of a nationwide cooperative association visited the ministry and requested the meat coordinator and other officials to commission their association to execute buyback operations. Asada was executive director of the association.
In response, the ministry proposed that the association be commissioned by the All Japan Meat Industry Cooperative Associations, and that the same information regarding the plan be conveyed to both associations.
The ministry also proposed that the association could buy up to about 4,000 tons of beef.