OSAKA — Prosecutors last year made an inappropriate decision when they declined to indict two former executives of Snow Brand Milk Products Co. in connection with a mass food-poisoning outbreak, the No. 1 Osaka Inquest of Prosecution has ruled, it was learned Thursday.
The case against former Snow Brand President Tetsuro Ishikawa, 68, and ex-Managing Director Hiroshi Soma, 63, who allegedly committed professional negligence resulting in injury and death, was sent to the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In the food-poisoning scare, which began in June 2000, dairy products manufactured at the firm’s Osaka factory sickened roughly 13,400 people, with one person dying as a result.
According to documents brought to prosecutors, the two men failed to take steps to swiftly inform the public of the situation, which effectively caused the number of those affected to rise.
Soma first received word about seven cases of food poisoning on June 28, 2000, while Ishikawa learned of the news at an airport in Hokkaido the following morning. The firm began recalling its products that day, but did not hold a news conference to publicly disclose the facts until the next evening. An announcement was also placed in newspapers’ June 30 morning editions.
Although prosecutors concluded last July that there was insufficient evidence against the pair to indict them, the inquest of prosecution deemed that they could have foreseen that their actions could cause the outbreak to spread, sources close to the case said.
“Anyone working in the food industry could have naturally predicted that (withholding information) could cause further food poisoning, and reports submitted (to the pair) on the situation were sufficient for them to foresee” that outcome, according to the inquest’s report.
The panel said Snow Brand put its own interests first, thinking of the blow the outbreak would deal to the firm, rather than placing priority on the safety of its customers.
“The company’s social responsibility for shocking the food industry and betraying the trust of consumers is grave,” it said. “Top officials at the firm should take responsibility as members of the organization.”
Ishikawa was suspected of professional negligence resulting in injury in 58 cases, while Soma’s actions allegedly resulted in the deaths and/or injury of 139 people.
Two people had brought the case before the inquest of prosecution, saying they were dissatisfied with the district prosecutors’ handling of the case.
Snow Brand officials said the firm has not yet been informed of the latest decision and they will wait to see what action prosecutors take.
Prosecutors are required to review the decisions of the inquest of prosecution — which are nonbinding — and decide whether to reopen the case.
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