Green Cross execs plead guilty in blood products debacle

OSAKA — Three former presidents of Green Cross Corp. pleaded guilty Mar. 24 before the Osaka District Court to charges of professional negligence resulting in death because of the drug company’s sale of HIV-tainted blood products.

The trial was the last in a series involving the HIV debacle, in which nearly 2,000 hemophiliacs, as well as other patients, were exposed to HIV due to the tainted blood products that were distributed in the 1980s even after their risks were reported and safer alternatives were made available. Two other trials, against the nation’s leading authority in hemophilia and a former Health and Welfare Ministry bureaucrat, have opened at the Tokyo District Court.

Hemophilia expert Takeshi Abe, 80, a former vice president of Teikyo University, pleaded not guilty at the Tokyo District Court to professional negligence in a March 10 hearing in his trial. Akihito Matsumura, 55, former chief of the Health and Welfare Ministry’s now-defunct Biologics and Antibiotics Division, also pleaded not guilty to professional negligence two days later. At the Osaka District Court on Mar. 24, prosecutors read their 40,000-word statement against the three defendants — Takehiko Kawano, 67, Renzo Matsushita, 76, and Tadakazu Suyama, 69.

The former Green Cross executives are accused of continuing sales of Christmassin, an unheated blood product, even after the firm started marketing a safer heat-treated product approved in December 1985 and despite knowing the potential HIV risk of the unheated products. Continued shipments of the unheated products in January and February of the following year led to the 1995 death of a male patient who had suffered liver disease, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Green Cross falsely advertised the blood-clotting agent as “domestically produced and safe” and continued sales under Matsushita’s knowledge of the HIV risk. Matsushita was company president at the time. Representing the three defendants, Matsushita offered an apology to the family of the victim before entering a plea.