Three former officials of Maruha Corp., the top seafood producer in the nation, pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of evading customs duties at their first hearing held in the Tokyo District Court.

The three defendants, including Manabu Atsumi, a 52-year-old former senior official, as well as the Tokyo-based company itself, all admitted to the charges.

According to the indictment, the three former Maruha officials evaded about 400 million yen in customs duties by making false declarations over the country of origin of imported octopuses from June 1996 through December 1999 on 281 occasions.

The company claimed their octopuses were caught in places where octopus imports are exempt from customs duties, such as Gambia, while their products actually originated from Senegal and other locations where the customs duty is 5 percent.

Public prosecutors argued during the hearing that the three defendants, eager to achieve profits amid declining seafood prices, initiated the tax evasion scheme after they were lured by a broker in West Africa in 1992.

The prosecutors also said the three officials directed their subordinates to destroy documents related to the scheme following media reports about illegal octopus imports in December 1999.

Atsumi and the two others were arrested by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office on May 9.

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