'I NEEDED MONEY'

Two held over panda sales bid

Two men have been arrested on suspicion of trying to sell a stuffed giant panda through an Internet auction, it was learned Monday.

The suspects were identified as Noboru Ichii, 45, of Osaka, and Yasunori Ueda, 72, of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.

The Metropolitan Police Department alleged that the two men violated the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Commercial trade in giant pandas is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, more commonly known as the Washington Convention.

According to an investigation, Ueda sold the taxidermic panda, which measured about 1.1 meter in height, to Ichii in March for several hundred thousand yen. Ichii allegedly asked a 45-year-old acquaintance in Niigata Prefecture to place the mounted animal on an Internet auction site the following month.

Police said the item was posted on the auction site with a photograph and an explanation stating: “Bids start from 8 million yen. This panda came from China as a symbol of friendship between Japan and China.”

Ueda was quoted as telling police he was given the stuffed panda from an acquaintance about 20 years ago after the acquaintance could not repay a debt.

“I needed money and (the stuffed panda) was just getting in the way at home, so I decided to sell it,” he was quoted as saying.

According to experts, giant pandas are currently kept and managed in eight countries, including Japan and China. They are controlled on a registration basis, and it is unthinkable for those handled by a taxidermist to be distributed through ordinary channels.

Metropolitan police said they were alerted to the case after the Environment Ministry saw the stuffed panda for sale on the Internet. Officials said there were no bidders for the item.