OSAKA — Police in Hyogo, Ehime and Tokushima prefectures plan to search three sales offices of Nippon Food Inc. and related locations next week in connection with their investigation into a beef-mislabeling scam, police sources said Thursday.

Nippon Food is a subsidiary of Nippon Meat Packers Inc., which is better known as Nippon Ham.

The searches next week will cover Nippon Food offices in western Japan and mark the third searches carried out in connection with the mislabeling case since the investigations into the now-defunct Snow Brand Food Co. and Nippon Shokuhin Co., the sources said.

Nippon Ham has admitted that staff at its subsidiary falsely labeled imported beef as domestic to take advantage of the government’s beef-buyback program.

The subsidy was introduced after the outbreak of mad cow disease last year and was intended to help beef producers weather a plunge in sales.

Police from the three prefectures hope the searches clarify how involved Nippon Ham was in the mislabeling scam.

According to the sources, police have already begun questioning the former chiefs of three sales offices — all of whom have been fired — as well as other employees under suspicion.

The searches were originally scheduled for this week, but police postponed them so they could continue questioning the three sales managers, the sources said.

On Sept. 12, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry filed criminal complaints against the three with the prefectural police on suspicion of defrauding the state of about 10 million yen in subsidies.

The three are Shunji Tanaka, 55, of the Himeji sales office in Hyogo Prefecture; Seiji Morii, 46, of the sales office in Tokushima Prefecture; and Yoshinobu Igaue, 40, of the office in Ehime Prefecture.

According to the complaints, the three ordered employees to repackage about 4.3 tons of imported beef as domestic last October and November and submitted about 14 tons of beef, including the disguised imports, to the Japan Ham & Sausage Processors Cooperative Association.

Sources said the association, which was charged with buying domestic beef on behalf of the state under the program, may file a criminal complaint against the three next week.

The Himeji office is suspected of mislabeling about 0.5 ton of beef, the Ehime office about 3.5 tons and the Tokushima office some 0.3 ton.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.