Peko-chan theft spree nets crook seven years

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

YAMAGATA — A 39-year-old man was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison for stealing Peko-chan dolls, the trademark character for major confectioner Fujiya Co., that are traded at high prices among collectors.

The Yamagata District Court ruled that Hiroyuki Cho ordered a collaborator to steal 15 life-size dolls, worth about 1.1 million yen in total, from restaurants and shops in Gunma, Saitama and Yamagata prefectures from May to July last year.

Cho, unemployed, lives in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.

Prosecutors had demanded 11 years in prison as violence was used in some of the attempts to steal the dolls.

Cho had pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer argued in court that an acquaintance of Cho’s was solely responsible for the thefts. This man, Tetsuji Shibuya, has already been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison.

But presiding Judge Takeshi Kaneko ruled that Cho was the mastermind behind the crimes, noting that he had given instructions on how to steal the dolls in e-mail messages.

The judge also said Cho repeatedly made irrational excuses for his role in the thefts, and has shown no sign of repentance. As for motive, the court ruled that Cho turned to stealing the dolls, which he had been selling at flea markets, because they became increasingly hard to obtain.

Although Peko-chan dolls are not for sale, they are traded among avid fans, and life-size ones can reportedly fetch more than 100,000 yen.

The mascot of the Fujiya cakes and sweets chain is a chubby girl whose tongue sticks out of the side of her mouth. The confectioner was founded in Tokyo in 1910, and Peko-chan made her first appearance 45 years later. The dolls are displayed at nearly all 950 Fujiya stores in Japan.