• Kyodo

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Four officials of Marubeni Chikusan Corp. and a senior executive of a meat-packing company were arrested Thursday over a scam to pass off imported chicken as prime domestic poultry.

A joint task force of the Miyagi and Iwate prefectural police apprehended them on suspicion of defrauding wholesalers who purchased the chickens and of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law, which bans misleading consumers about a product’s origin.

The suspects include Akihiro Yoshikawa, 47, former chief of Marubeni Chikusan’s Tohoku region marketing department, and Yasushi Sato, 45, the company’s former Sendai branch head.

The remaining three are Tatsuya Goto, 42, former acting head of the Sendai branch; Shinya Chiba, 30, an employee at the branch; and Yuji Sugiyama, the 54-year-old senior managing director of Sugiyama Shoten, a meat-packing company in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

Police said all five have admitted to the allegations.

Marubeni Chikusan, a subsidiary of major trading house Marubeni Corp., allegedly bilked buyers to the tune of around 1 million yen by selling 40 tons of imported chicken, mainly from Brazil, as prime domestic poultry in Miyagi Prefecture between September and December 2000.

Investigators allege that Sugiyama Shoten repacked the chicken meat on instructions from the Marubeni Chikusan officials.

The case came to light last March, when the Fair Trade Commission conducted an inspection on Marubeni Chikusan’s Sendai office.

Investigative sources said at least 700 tons of imported chicken may have been disguised as domestic primary chicken prior to the FTC inspection.

Industry sources close to Marubeni Chikusan said the practice started around 1999 and intensified in 2001 when beef sales and consumption were hit hard by an outbreak in domestic cattle of mad cow disease.

Investigations indicate that several Marubeni Chikusan branches nationwide may have been involved in similar deals.

Police have searched several locations, including the firm’s head office in Tokyo, hoping to determine whether the scam was systematically carried out with the knowledge of senior officials.

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