MITO, Ibaraki Pref. (Kyodo) Police said Saturday they arrested the former owner of a chicken farm operation in Ibaraki Prefecture on suspicion he colluded with other veterinarians at the company to obstruct inspections for avian flu.

The police allege that veterinarian Taiyo Saito, 66, former chairman of IKN Egg Farms Co., replaced chickens last August that were scheduled to be inspected with birds from other farms.

IKN Egg Farms’s head office in Yokohama was among the 25 locations police raided in December after chickens in at least one of its farms in Ibaraki tested positive for bird flu during a re-inspection in November.

Chickens had tested negative in previous inspections, but it was later discovered the tests were carried out on chickens handpicked by farm workers and in the absence of prefectural animal disease control officials.

The police said Saito has admitted to the allegations, which constitute violations of the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law.

The police also quoted Saito as saying that the timing of the obstruction was a little earlier than police suspected.

In late February, the police arrested three veterinarians and an IKN employee for allegedly obstructing inspections and failing to report a suspected bird flu case.

The three veterinarians were Ikuo Eguchi, 58, Yoshio Maeda, 53, and Takanori Nakamura, 36. The employee was Tomohiro Nakane, 32.

Saito’s involvement has become the focal point of the investigation.

In an interview with Kyodo News before his arrest Saturday, Saito hinted he was involved in the case.

“I can’t deny my involvement in the case because I am responsible for the farm’s technical matters,” Saito said.

But he stayed mum on whether he played a leading roll in obstructing the bird flu inspections.

Avian flu infections involving the milder H5N2 strain have been found at dozens of poultry farms in the prefecture since last June, and several million birds have been culled as a result.

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