Activists charged for exposing whale meat scandal

Greenpeace denounces charges as disproportionate and politically motivated

Feature story - July 11, 2008
*Update: Junichi and Toru were released on bail late in the night on July 14th! The two activists were set free by a panel of three judges in Aomori, Japan pending their trial. An appeal by the local prosecutor was rejected by the judges, and Junichi and Toru headed home to see their families after 26 days in jail. A big “Thank You!” to the more than 250,000 people worldwide who took action on their behalf!The fight is not over, however, as the investigation into Japan’s illegal whaling program was dropped the same day the activists were charged. And, of course, Junichi and Toru must still have their day in court.

No date has been set for the Tokyo Two's court appearance, but given that only about 10% of bail applications are granted by Japan's court system, hopes are now running high that they will prevail.

Said Frode Pleym of Greenpeace, "We are extremely relieved that our two activists have finally been released. However, our biggest question remains unanswered: why did the Japanese Prosecutor drop his investigation into the compelling evidence of whale meat embezzlement by whaling crew members brought to him by Greenpeace? We call on the Government to reinstate its investigation into the corruption in the whaling fleet." 

Greenpeace Japan's activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, were charged with theft and trespass by the prosecutor in Aomori after they exposed a major scandal around the embezzlement of whale meat from the Japanese government-sponsored Southern Ocean whaling program.

Junichi and Toru were placed in detention in Aomori at the time of their arrest on June 10th and were held until July 14th despite widespread international protest. They exposed the whale-meat embezzlement scandal on May 15th, when they presented a box of whale meat stolen by the crew of Japan's so-called "scientific whaling" fleet to the Tokyo Public Prosecutor. A dossier documenting how the box was intercepted during the four month long Greenpeace investigation was also submitted to the Tokyo Public Prosecutor.

The scam, in which prime cuts of whale meat are smuggled off the ship by crew members and sold outside official channels - for personal profit - appears to have been running for years, with the full awareness of the officials that conduct the whaling expeditions.

"Instead of prosecuting peaceful protesters and those who exposed crimes within the whaling program, the government of Japan should revoke all Southern Ocean whaling permits, release the activists and order an immediate and independent investigation into the embezzlement scandal, " said Gerd Leipold, Executive Director, Greenpeace International.

However, it appears that powerful forces within Japan's government don't want scrutiny of the whaling industry. On the day the activists were arrested, the Public Prosecutor dropped the investigation into the whaling industry, claiming there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against any of the crew or whaling officials.

Also, on the day the activists were arrested, more than 40 police officers raided the offices of Greenpeace Japan - watched by the media, who had been tipped off by the police - and spent ten hours seizing cell phones, documents, and computers. Given that we had already submitted a dossier detailing how the box was taken and why, and promised our full support with any investigation, a simple phone call would have been enough to bring Junichi and Toru to the police station.

"From the beginning it has been clear that the arrest and detention of Junichi and Toru has been politically motivated, and that powerful forces within the Japanese establishment are attempting to silence legitimate peaceful protest, in order to protect the so-called scientific whaling program," said Leipold.

"We have exposed a scandal at the heart of the whaling program, involving embezzlement of valuable cuts of whale meat, and we have highlighted the massive waste of Japanese taxpayers' money on the annual so-called scientific hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary," he continued.

There's been massive global reaction to the arrest of Junichi and Toru. Some 30 environmental and human rights organizations have either put their names to an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) statement of protest, or sent letters of support, including Amnesty International, the Lawyers Network for Human Rights Observation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, InArticle 19, Transparency International, Oceana, Ubuntu, and Oxfam. A network of Japanese lawyers has called the arrests a "violation of human rights," and "a challenge to the freedom of expression in Japan."

More than a quarter million of you have sent letters to the Japanese Government calling for the release of Junichi and Toru and demanding a full investigation into the whale meat embezzlement scandal. Protests have been held outside Japanese embassies and consulates in 35 cities across 30 countries.

We're still working hard to get Junichi and Toru cleared of all criminal charges, so if you haven't written to the Japanese government yet, please do so!

The investigation

Our four-month undercover investigation revealed evidence of an embezzlement ring involving crew members on board the Nisshin Maru, who were openly taking the best cuts of whale meat during the so-called scientific hunt, smuggling it ashore disguised as personal luggage and then passing it to traders for illegal sales and personal profit.

Working from information given by former and current Kyodo Senpaku employees, we documented the off-loading of smuggled whale meat into a special truck, in full view of Kyodo Senpaku officials and crew members when the Nisshin Maru docked on April 15th, this year.

The consignment was documented by our team once it left the ship and tracked to a depot in Tokyo. One of four boxes destined for the same private address was then intercepted in order to verify the contents and establish the fraud.

The consignment notes claimed the box contained "cardboard" but in reality it held 23.5kg of salted 'prime' whale meat, worth up to US$3,000. One informer told Greenpeace that dozens of crew take as many as 20 boxes each.  One crewmember was overheard to claim he had built a house on the proceeds from his whale-meat sales over the years.

Take action!

Send a letter to support Junichi and Toru!


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