• Kyodo

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Two former senior sales officials of a subsidiary of Nippon Meat Packers Inc. were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of defrauding the government out of several million yen.

This marks the third case in which meat company officials have been held for allegedly misusing a government buyback program launched after the 2001 outbreak of mad cow disease by falsely labeling imported beef as domestic.

Ehime Prefectural Police arrested Yoshinobu Igaue, 40, who headed the Ehime sales office of Nippon Food Inc. in Shigenobu, Ehime Prefecture, and the office’s deputy head, Hiroshi Kaneshige, 40, on suspicion of bilking the government out of more than 6 million yen in conspiracy with several other company officials.

Nippon Food has since devolved into several firms.

Police allege that Igaue falsely labeled about 4 tons of imported beef as domestic on Oct. 29, 2001. He then allegedly sold about 9,59 tons of beef, including the falsely labeled meat, to an industry association through the parent firm Nippon Meat Packers — better known as Nippon Ham — to obtain about 6.72 million yen.

Igaue has reportedly told investigators that the decision to mislabel the beef was his, while Kaneshige has also owned up to the allegations, police officials said.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry filed a criminal complaint with police last September against Igaue and the former chiefs of Nippon Food’s two other sales offices, in Hyogo and Tokushima prefectures, both of which are now closed.

Hyogo and Tokushima prefectural police do not plan to arrest the former heads of Nippon Food’s Himeji and Tokushima sales offices, officials said, because of the relatively small amount of beef they are alleged to have disguised and the lack of evidence of a conspiracy.

The two police forces, however, plan to turn over to prosecutors their case against the two former chiefs, who may be arrested if Ehime police uncover incriminating evidence in their investigation, the officials said.

In September and October, the three prefectural police forces searched the former sales chiefs’ homes and offices as well as the domestic meat product division of Nippon Meat Packers in Osaka.

The former head of Nippon Food’s Himeji sales office is suspected of falsely labeling about 520 kg of beef to obtain about 2.85 million yen, Hyogo police officials said.

Tokushima Prefectural Police have found that the roughly 260 kg of imported beef the company’s Tokushima sales office applied to have bought back through the subsidy program have since been incinerated.

Police quoted the former Tokushima office head as telling them during questioning that he had taken the step at his own discretion.

Nippon Meat Packers released a statement reiterating its apology over the scandal following Wednesday’s arrests.

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