The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Wednesday arrested a former senior official of Maruha Corp., Japan’s seafood industry leader, on suspicion of tax evasion, prosecutors said.
Manabu Atsumi, 51, a former general manager of the Tokyo-based marine product company’s second fisheries department, is alleged to have evaded taxes by making false declarations over the country of origin of imported octopuses.
Prosecutors also arrested two other Maruha employees — Yutaka Maeyasui, 45, and Hiroshi Otsuka, a 50-year-old Japanese-Brazilian who used to head Maruha’s office in the Canary Islands — on the same charge.
Atsumi and the two others have allegedly admitted to the charges against them, citing the narrow profit margin on octopuses.
The Tokyo Customs earlier filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutors office against the three and Maruha on suspicion of violating the Customs Law.
Prosecutors searched the company’s headquarters in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward and other related locations over the accusations.
Maruha is suspected of evading around 400 million yen in customs duties between June 1996 and December 1999 on about 280 occasions by submitting false certificates of origin for the octopuses, the prosecutors said.
The company allegedly claimed that about 11,400 tons of octopuses worth some 5.2 billion yen were caught in Gambia and Mauritania, and would therefore face no customs duty, when in fact they came from Senegal or the Canary Islands, they said.
Imports from developing countries are either exempted from customs duty or incur lower rates of tax compared with imports from developed countries.
The customs duty for sea products from Senegal and the Canary Islands is 5 percent.
Atsumi was in charge of Maruha’s octopus imports for over 10 years, the prosecutors said, adding that when the amount for which the statute of limitations has run out is included, over 1 billion yen worth of taxes was evaded in total.
Maruha officials said they intend to cooperate in the investigation, adding that they take the matter seriously.
Hidefumi Deyama, who heads the firm’s general affairs section, stressed during a hastily called news conference the same day that the tax evasion was not systematic.
“An internal probe showed that (Atsumi’s) superiors were unaware of what had been going on,” Deyama said. “These actions were based on a decision made by an individual.”
When asked whether no one harbored suspicions when the firm’s profits on octopus surged, Deyama replied that prices of the commodity greatly fluctuate, and that it was difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind any swings in profit figures.
Maruha, established in 1943, is the biggest marine product company in Japan in sales terms, with consolidated annual sales of approximately 900 billion yen. The company is also the top importer of octopuses.
The Atlantic Ocean off West Africa is known as one of the world’s leading octopus fishing grounds.
According to the Fisheries Agency, of the 110,000 tons of octopuses annually imported into Japan, 90 percent comes from Africa.
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