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The decision Friday by the Tokyo District Court to hand Akihito Matsumura, a former senior health ministry official, a suspended prison term for professional negligence resulting in the death of a patient from AIDS underscores the difficulties in trials involving the criminal liability of bureaucrats.

The main focus of the trial was whether Matsumura, who between 1985 and 1986 was head of the now-defunct Biologics and Antibiotics Division, knew of the potential dangers posed by unheated blood coagulants when they were administered to two patients — a hemophiliac and a patient suffering from a liver disorder.

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