KYOTO – Police handed over to prosecutors Friday the president and two former executives of a chicken farm company in Kyoto Prefecture for failing to report an outbreak of bird flu in February.
Hideaki Asada, 41, president of Asada Nosan Co., had been instructed by his father, the chairman, not to release information about the possible infection at the poultry farm in Tanba, Kyoto Prefecture, police said.
Asada’s father, Hajimu Asada, 67, and mother committed suicide on March 8. Police also sent papers on the father to prosecutors Friday over the bird-flu coverup. The company is based in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture.
Police on Friday also searched the Funai chicken farm in Tanba where the outbreak occurred, including its office and coops.
Kyoto Prefectural Police on Wednesday arrested the company’s president, along with Masaaki Morita, 53, a former board member of the company, and Katsuhiko Nozaki, 45, who was in charge of the farm’s coops, on suspicion of violating the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law.
All three have owned up to most of the allegations, police said, quoting Asada as apologizing for causing trouble.
The three were allegedly aware around Feb. 22 that the chickens were possibly infected with avian flu, but did not alert authorities. Chickens began dying in large numbers at the farm around Feb. 19.
Asada allegedly told investigators that his father told him to tell employees that the chickens were dying of enteritis.
Police sources said Asada ordered the employees to give the chickens medication for enteritis on Feb. 20 after more than 1,000 had died in the span of 24 hours.
Asada began to suspect that chickens were dying of bird flu when more chickens continued to die in large numbers two days after they were given the medication, the sources said. Even so, the company continued to sell live chickens and eggs from the farm.
Police said they have learned that Morita dissected chickens for examination and reported the results to Asada on Feb. 17. Asada, his father and Morita met again on Feb. 22 and dissected more chickens for examination, the sources said.
When employees asked Asada after the examinations if the farm had been hit by bird flu, Asada told them not to worry because they had found the cause of death to be enteritis.
Asada has reportedly told investigators that he covered up the outbreak for the sake of the company.
Soon after the mass deaths of the chickens on the farm were made public, the elder Asada claimed the chickens were dying of enteritis. But at a news conference on March 7, the day before he committed suicide, he declined further comment.
The outbreak came to light Feb. 27 after an anonymous caller alerted local authorities of the large number of chickens dying there.
The outbreak was the third case of bird flu in Japan this year, following one at a poultry farm in Yamaguchi Prefecture in January and another among bantams kept by a household in Oita Prefecture in February. The case in Yamaguchi was Japan’s first case of avian flu in 79 years. Another Tanba farm also suffered a subsequent outbreak.