YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Police on Monday raided four companies suspected of reselling moldy rice as edible in 2007.

The raid took place before the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry filed criminal complaints against the four companies later in the day.

As the three-year statute of limitations for prosecution over breaching the food hygiene law will expire in about a month, the Kanagawa Prefectural Police are planning to turn their case against the companies’ officials to prosecutors by the end of August.

The police searched the offices of Ishida Bussan, a Yokohama-based intermediary business that has closed down, Amakasu Songai Kamotsu, a broker also based in Yokohama, Kyowa Seibaku, a food company in Isehara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Kyoshin Shoji, a foodstuff wholesale trader in Handa, Aichi Prefecture.

Ishida Bussan is suspected of reselling to Kyoshin Shoji in September 2007 a total of 82 tons of rice for edible use even though the rice was not supposed to be used as food because mold was detected on it during import quarantine.

The police raided the offices of Kyoshin Shoji, Amakasu Songai Kamotsu and Kyowa Seibaku as places linked to Ishida Bussan.

All 82 tons are believed to have been consumed already, and of that amount, 19 tons were used to make “shochu” spirits, according to the ministry’s investigation.

The rice was imported from the United States by trading house Toyota Tsusho Corp. under the so-called minimum access World Trade Organization deal that obliges Japan to import a certain amount of low-quality rice in exchange for levying high tariffs on imported rice.

Toyota Tsusho sold the rice to Amakasu Songai Kamotsu for use as foodstuff, and the latter sold it to Ishida Bussan, which then allegedly asked Kyowa Seibaku to fake the ledger to make it appear as if it was processed into foodstuff.

The rice was later distributed through Kyoshin Shoji as food.

Further downstream, some firms bought and resold the tainted rice apparently with knowledge of its shady origins. Those firms included now-defunct Mikasa Foods based in Osaka.

The tainted rice from Mikasa ended up at more than 300 companies and was used to make Japanese cakes and food-service products, including school lunches, an earlier investigation showed.

Many innocent businesses suffered a consumer backlash as the scandal widened.

The scandal started to unfold after the agriculture ministry received a letter from a whistle-blower. However, the ministry has been criticized for not moving fast enough once it received the tip.

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