• Kyodo

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Osaka Prefectural Police on Friday raided the main branch of the high-end Senba Kitcho restaurant group based in the city of Osaka on suspicion over the chain’s alleged false labeling of the origin of its beef products in violation of the unfair competition prevention law.

The group, headed by President Masanori Yuki, is also suspected of selling a variety of confectionery and delicatessen items with falsified labels with full knowledge of the illegal practice, investigative sources said.

The searches targeted 12 locations, including the main branch in Chuo Ward and the president’s home.

Police sources said Yuki will be grilled shortly.

On Thursday, Yuki offered an apology at a news conference but denied the labeling scam was corporatewide.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and other sources said Senba Kitcho is suspected of falsely labeling the ingredients of three processed beef products sold between March and October. While their labels said the products used the luxurious Tajima brand of beef from Hyogo Prefecture, they really used beef from Saga, Kagoshima and other prefectures, they said.

Senba Kitcho is also suspected of using from around 2004 broiler chickens for products that listed an indigenous breed of chicken as ingredients on their labels.

Other suspicions include faking the expiration dates of noodle dipping sauce and those of expired dessert items sold at its delicatessen in the Iwataya department store in the city of Fukuoka.

The firm has held local staff responsible for such conduct, but some of its part-time employees have said they have been “repeatedly instructed” to extend the dates on the labels by board member Shoji Yuki, a director on the board in charge of Kyushu.

Friday’s raid on the long-established restaurant chain came amid nationwide concerns over food safety centered on false labeling. Recently, businesses ranging from meatpackers to confectioneries have been raided over false labeling.

Those include Hokkaido meat processor Meat Hope Co., Sapporo-based chocolate cookie maker Ishiya Trading Co., time-honored sweets makers Akafuku Co. and Ofuku Mochi Honke Y.K. in Ise, Mie Prefecture, and chicken processor Hinaidori K.K. in Akita Prefecture.

On Friday, Masatoshi Wakabayashi, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said Senba Kitcho needs to explain fully about its own probe and urged law enforcement authorities to conduct a thorough investigation.

The 1993 unfair competition prevention law carries punishment of up to five years imprisonment or a fine of ¥5 million for individual offenders, and a fine of ¥300 million for corporate offenders.

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