Toxins tie suspect to poisonings


Traces of the pesticide malathion have been found in items belonging to a man who was arrested Saturday over food poisoning caused by tainted frozen food products made by a Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. subsidiary, investigative sources said Sunday.

These items were used by the suspect, Toshiki Abe, at the plant of Maruha Nichiro unit Aqli Foods Corp. in the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, the sources said.

Abe, a 49-year-old contract worker at Aqli Foods, was arrested by the Gunma Prefectural Police on suspicion of obstructing business by injecting malathion into frozen foods at the plant from Oct. 3 to 7 last year. The question of whether he intended to injure consumers will be key to any further charges, the sources said.

The police believe that Abe brought in malathion to the Oizumi plant and injected it into frozen foods during the manufacturing process.

The police are investigating details, including how he got the pesticide into the products. Abe has denied the charges.

Investigators questioned plant workers who were on duty when the products were made and examined their gear, shoes and other items they used at the plant.

Traces of malathion were detected on some of Abe’s belongings, the sources said.

Malathion is not designated as a toxic substance under law.

The police are investigating whether anyone else was involved in the poisonings, the sources said.

Abe has been working at the Aqli Foods plant since October 2005. Around the time of the pesticide incident, he was working on a production line for pizza dough. He went missing after he finished work on Jan. 14.

According to Aqli Foods and other sources, Abe had his bonuses for the current fiscal year reduced after his work performance was evaluated.