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The Diet enacted a special law Friday exempting people with low incomes from returning the compensation they received for being poisoned by contaminated cooking oil from Kanemi Soko K.K.

The law exempts most of the 504 victims who have not yet repaid the government a combined 1.7 billion yen they received after a court decision ruled in their favor in a damages suit. They dropped the case when the government appealed to the high court, fearing the ruling would be overturned if it went on to the Supreme Court.

The lawmaker-initiated bill cleared the House of Councilors in a plenary session Friday morning. It cleared the House of Representatives unanimously a week ago after the ruling and opposition camps reached an agreement.

Known as the “Kanemi oil poisoning incident,” people throughout western Japan were poisoned in 1968 by Kanemi’s rice bran cooking oil, which was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl and dioxin. The people who ate the oil developed deformities, skin disorders and other abnormalities.

About 1,900 people, many of them in Fukuoka and Nagasaki prefectures, so far have been recognized as poison victims. About 1,300 were still living as of March 2006.

The people who joined the damages suit received a combined 2.7 billion yen from the state in conditional payments after the district court ruling but they agreed to repay the sum in installments after reaching an out-of-court settlement with Kanemi, based in the city of Kitakyushu, and the case against the state was eventually completely dropped in 1989.

However, 504 of the plaintiffs had not returned their payments as of the end of 2006, due mainly to their low incomes and the large size of the repayments.

Under the special law, victims whose household income and assets are below recognized minimum annual income levels — 10 million yen per year is the minimum for a four-member family — are exempt from all refund requirements.

Most of the 504 people meet the conditions for exemption, government officials said.

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