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Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010
Judgment draws near in whale-meat trial
In 2008, two officials of Greenpeace Japan presented to prosecutors what they described as evidence of a Japanese whaler's embezzlement of whale meat and asked them to investigate.
Instead of indicting the whaler and his colleagues, prosecutors charged the two environmental activists with theft and trespassing.
This, in essence, is what the so-called whale meat trial is all about. The Aomori District Court will hand down its ruling Monday. The prosecutors are demanding that both Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki spend 18 months in prison.
The two have admitted to most of the indictment's content. According to Greenpeace Japan and the indictment, the two entered the Aomori branch of Seino Transportation Co. on April 16, 2008, and took a cardboard box containing 23.5 kg of whale meat worth about ¥58,905 to a hotel room and opened it.
The indictment states the two took the meat "for the purpose of stealing." This Sato and Suzuki deny.
"There was only one purpose. That is to show prosecutors evidence of whale meat embezzlement. We didn't mean to sell or eat it," Sato told The Japan Times. "We didn't do it for our profit."
"Prosecutors' action was unbalanced" as they didn't indict the crew members of the whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku, but did charge Sato and Suzuki, said Kazuo Hizumi, a lawyer for the two. Kyodo Senpaku has the Japanese monopoly on the business of hunting whales and selling the meat.
"I want the judges to look at the big picture (that the purpose of taking the meat was to reveal the truth) and find the defendants' actions not illegal," Hizumi said.
The Committee for the Inquest of Prosecutors, a panel of civilians checking prosecutors, last backed the Tokyo prosecutors' decision not to indict the Kyodo Senpaku crew because the meat they received can be considered a souvenir or unneeded parts of the whale, and thus there was no embezzlement.
Kyodo Senpaku's director, Makoto Ito, told The Japan Times the company pays the government-backed Institute of Cetacean Research for about 10 kg of whale meat that each crew member can take home as a souvenir. The institute outsources to Kyodo Senpaku the work of catching whales and selling the meat.
The whaling fleet, including the largest ship, the Nisshin Maru, has about 180 crewmen.
Ito said it is his understanding that the person who sent home the 23.5-kg box got some of the meat from fellow whalers who didn't want their full cut.
However, an informant who used to be a Nisshin Maru crew member told The Japan Times that each fisherman takes about 10 boxes of whale meat, mainly the best cuts.
Critics say a political motive may be behind the prosecutors' move. The government vehemently defends its annual research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean in the face of strong opposition from environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd and antiwhaling countries, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
To cover the whaling, the institute got ¥1.2 billion from the government and ¥5.8 billion from selling whale meat for the current business year to Sept. 30, its budget shows.
Sato and Suzuki began investigating the alleged embezzlement in January 2008 when the same informant who talked to The Japan Times about the meat embezzlement tipped off Greenpeace Japan, the environmental group said.
The two say they waited for the Nisshin Maru at a Tokyo port, and on April 15 that year observed more than 93 cardboard boxes that were supposed to be the crew's personal luggage being unloaded and then put into a truck.
The labels identified the contents of such boxes, addressed to about 30 different places, as "cardboard," "black nylons" and "salted (food)," Greenpeace Japan said.
The next day, Sato and Suzuki trailed some of the boxes to the Seino Transportation branch in Aomori and took one to their hotel and opened it, the environmental group said.
Greenpeace Japan held a news conference May 15, 2008, showing media the box of whale meat as evidence of embezzlement and sent a letter to the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office asking it to investigate 12 crew members of the Nisshin Maru. The office accepted the letter and the meat May 20, according to Greenpeace Japan.
The next day, Seino filed a theft complaint with police against Greenpeace.
On June 20 that year, the Tokyo prosecutors decided to stop investigating the 12 crew members and police arrested Sato and Suzuki on suspicion of stealing the whale meat and illegally entering the Seino Transportation branch.
In June, two former whalers, including one who said he was a crewman on the Nisshin Maru, told Australian TV that their colleagues routinely embezzled hundreds of kilograms of whale meat.