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The farm ministry filed criminal complaints Thursday against the former chiefs of three sales offices of a Nippon Meat Packers Inc. subsidiary on suspicion of defrauding the government out of nearly 10 million yen.

They are Shunji Tanaka, 55, of the Himeji sales office in Hyogo Prefecture; Seiji Morii, 46, of the Tokushima sales office; and Yoshinobu Igaue, 40, of the Ehime sales office, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

The ministry filed the complaints with the sales offices’ respective prefectures.

It is the third case in which the farm ministry has filed criminal complaints relating to abuse of a government-run beef buyback program introduced in the wake of last year’s outbreak of mad cow disease.

The other cases involve Snow Brand Foods Co. and Nippon Shokuhin Co.

The buyback program was introduced in an effort to prevent the meat of cows butchered before the introduction of a nationwide testing regime from reaching consumers.

It also constituted an effort to help domestic beef producers whose sales had been bludgeoned by the BSE outbreak.

According to the ministry, the three Nippon Food officials ordered employees to repackage some 4.4 tons of imported beef as domestic in October and November. They then submitted 14.2 tons of beef — including the mislabeled imported beef — to an industry body in order to claim subsidies under the buyback program.

The officials are suspected of fraudulently claiming 9.94 million yen in subsidies as temporary payments from the Japan Ham & Sausage Processors Cooperative Association, which was tasked with buying domestic beef under the program, ministry officials said.

Motoaki Shoji, a former senior managing director of Nippon Meat Packers, popularly known as Nippon Ham, is also suspected of covering up evidence by ordering the beef in question to be incinerated after it was returned from the association, the officials said.

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