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15 May 2008 14:43
Anti-whaling campaigners said on Thursday that they had uncovered an embezzlement ring at the heart of the Japanese whaling fleet, accusing crew members of stealing choice cuts of whale meat worth millions of yen for sale on the black market.
Greenpeace’s claims, made after a four-month secret investigation, are expected to deal another blow to Japan’s whaling industry, already reeling from unprecedented international criticism of its recent “scientific” hunt in the Antarctic.
The group filed a criminal complaint with prosecutors requesting a full investigation into allegations that 12 crew members aboard the Nisshin Maru, the fleet’s mother ship, had stolen as many as 47 boxes of whale meat worth around Â¥15-million (about $143Â 000) from the vessel when it docked in Tokyo last month.
The crewmembers, all employees of the fleet’s operator, Kyodo Senpaku, allegedly smuggled the meat ashore disguised as personal luggage before passing it on to traders for illegal sale to shops and restaurants.
Greenpeace said it had intercepted a box containing 23,5kg of salted meat worth as much as $2Â 900 and that a delivery slip on the box said it contained “cardboard”.
The alleged practice is so lucrative that one crewmember reportedly built a house with money earned from sales of smuggled whale bacon.
“The information we have gathered indicates that the scale of the scandal is so great that it would be impossible for Kyodo Senpaku and the [research institute] not to know,” Greenpeace’s Junichi Sato told reporters.
He said the contraband meat had been loaded on to a truck in full view of Kyodo Senpaku officials.
“They are turning their back on large-scale corruption and theft of taxpayers’ money. What we need to know now, through a full public enquiry, is who else is profiting from the whaling programme.
Who else has allowed this fraud to continue?
“It is time for the whaling programme to be stopped and public money spent on something more honourable.”
A source close to Kyodo Senpaku told Greenpeace that one crewmember sent home boxes weighing 200kg to 300kg.
A sushi restaurant owner in Hiroshima was quoted as saying that the crewmembers often target the most expensive cuts of meat.
Several restaurants admitted to undercover campaigners that they were expecting the imminent delivery of meat from this year’s hunt, even though it is not supposed to be shipped to wholesalers until the end of June after being priced by the fisheries agency.
The chief Cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, said the fisheries agency was investigating the claims, but the hunt’s organiser said it had nothing to hide.
“We always given each crew member a small amount of whale meat to thank them for their hard work,” Hajime Ishikawa, the head of the government-affiliated Institute of Cetacean Research, said in a television interview. “The custom is continuing. There’s nothing illegal about it.”
The whaling fleet returned to port after five months at sea with only about half its quota of just over a 1 000 whales this year after its expedition was disrupted by activists from Greenpeace and the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.
Last year the fleet returned with 508 whales—though it had planned to slaughter almost twice as many—after the hunt was cut short by a fire aboard the Nisshin Maru in which a crewmember died.
Japan says its “lethal research” is vital to a proper understanding of whale populations’ feeding, migratory and other habits. The annual culls are permitted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but dismissed by critics as a de facto return to commercial whaling, which the IWC banned in 1986. A clause in the moratorium allows the meat to be sold on the open market, with the proceeds used to fund future hunts. - guardian.co.uk Â
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