• Kyodo

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The Kyoto District Court sentenced the president of a poultry operation Tuesday to a suspended one-year prison term for not reporting a bird flu outbreak at a Kyoto Prefecture farm earlier this year.

Asada Nosan Co., the company owned by defendant Hideaki Asada, 41, was fined 500,000 yen for the coverup.

Asada was found guilty of conspiring with his 67-year-old father, Hajimu, to conceal the outbreak in February. His father and mother apparently hanged themselves in March as the scandal widened.

They did not report the outbreak to local poultry health authorities as required by law for fear of losing business, the court ruled.

Asada, whose sentence was suspended for three years, initially maintained he thought the birds were dying of enteritis. But he pleaded guilty when his trial started in June, saying he had been afraid his business would fail if the truth was made public.

In handing down Tuesday’s ruling, presiding Judge Ryuichi Higashio said Asada’s actions were self-centered, adding he “did not consider his social responsibility as a food producer.”

However, the judge noted Asada’s father was the main culprit in the coverup and Asada had already been punished by going bankrupt.

On the claim that the absence of a compensation program was one reason Asada did not come forward with the information, the judge said there were bird flu outbreaks in Yamaguchi and Oita prefectures where the affected parties swiftly reported the cases to authorities.

“If (the defendant) had been aware of his social responsibility, he would have reported it,” he said.

The outbreak came to light after an anonymous caller alerted local authorities Feb. 26 that thousands of chickens were dying at the company’s Funai farm in the town of Tanba, Kyoto Prefecture.

The Kyoto Prefectural Government inspected the farm the following day and filed a criminal complaint in March against Asada and the company with police. The outbreak later apparently spread to another, smaller family farm in the same town.

Judge Higashio concluded his remarks by saying that he hopes Asada will overcome this setback. Asada bowed deeply and thanked the judge, wiping away tears.

Both prosecutors and the defense said they would not appeal to a higher court.

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Asada said the outcome was expected, given what he had done.

Asada added he plans to visit his parents’ grave to report that the trial is over. He repeated his apologies to former employees left jobless as a result of the fiasco.

“I’m sorry that they got caught up in all this as a result of my poor judgment,” he said. “I hope that all those who have not yet found new jobs can do so as soon as possible.”

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