• Kyodo

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Farm ministry bureaucrats are responsible for aiding and abetting a former meatpacking company chairman who has pleaded guilty to swindling the state out of more than 5 billion yen through a beef buyback plan, the former chief’s defense argued Friday before the Osaka District Court.

“By leaking information about the inspection (to qualify beef for the buyback plan), the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry induced and then condoned the crime,” the lawyers for Mitsuru Asada, former head of the Osaka-based Hannan Corp., said in a statement. “Their act constitutes an offense of aiding and abetting a crime.”

Asada, 65, pleaded guilty last week to conspiring with others to falsely label imported beef as domestic meat to qualify for government subsidies that were introduced after the domestic outbreak of mad cow disease in September 2001.

Asada, known as the don of the meatpacking industry, is accused of falsely labeling imported and other ineligible types of beef to qualify for subsidies given for domestic beef between November 2001 and May 2002.

According to media reports, Asada contacted the farm minister in October 2001 and asked for state aid to ease the losses he had sustained from plummeting beef sales, caused by the discovery of the nation’s first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Investigators quoted him earlier as saying he received a briefing on the subsidy program from farm ministry bureaucrats before the program was publicly announced. The ministry has denied providing any favors to Asada.

In Friday’s trial session, Asada’s defense applied to summon three farm ministry officials for testimony. Presiding Judge Kazuo Mizushima ruled that the officials will be summoned to the next session, slated for mid-September.

Asada’s lawyers said the former chairman was not trying to lessen his responsibility by blaming the bureaucrats.

Asada was asked at one point by a farm ministry official to intervene in the case of a meat-wholesaler president who asked authorities to buy unsold beef stock that was not eligible for the program, according to the defense. Asada’s firm later bought the stock and added it to the products used to get subsidies.

“It is outrageous for the ministry to insist that it had no idea that the beef in question was not eligible for the program,” the defense argued.

Asada said Friday that he falsely labeled the beef to get the subsidies “because other meat companies were in trouble” due to the mad cow scare.

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