Outrage: Greenpeace whale meat scandal whistleblowers arrested in Japan

Feature story - June 20, 2008
Update: Our appeal has been rejected, and Junichi and Toru have been ordered to spend a further 9 days in jail without charge. Under Japanese law, they can be held for up to 23 days without charge. More than 220,000 people have now used our global action alert to demand their release.

Japanese police have arrested two Greenpeace activists for exposing a whale meat scandal involving the government-sponsored whaling program. The two activists, Junichi Sato, 31, and Toru Suzuki, 41, are being investigated for allegedly stealing a box of whale meat which they presented as evidence. 

The box of the most expensive cuts of whale meat had been illicitly removed by crew of the Nisshin Maru, the whaling factory ship, following this year's Southern Ocean whale hunt. Its contents were marked "cardboard" and it was shipped to a private address. Tracked by our investigators, it was intercepted and turned over to the Public Prosecutor in Tokyo, as evidence of wide-scale corruption at the heart of the whaling operation in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

We requested an investigation into the scandal, and the Public Prosecutor agreed that there was sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. The investigation is currently underway, and has not yet reached any conclusions.  In light of evidence that the operators of the whaling operation were aware of the scandal and did nothing, we asked that the investigation not focus on crew, but on the bureaucrats who run the whaling program at public expense.

The Japanese whaling program costs the Japanese taxpayer 500 million yen per year (around 4.7 million US dollars). 

The only arrests thus far have been of the Greenpeace activists who presented the evidence. 

"This is the backlash," said Greenpeace Executive Director Jun Hoshikawa. "We've uncovered a scandal involving powerful forces in the Japanese government that benefit from whaling, and it's not surprising they are striking back. What is surprising is that these activists, who are innocent of any crime, would be arrested for returning whale meat that was stolen from Japanese taxpayers. In whose interest were these arrests made? Because it would appear to us that this is an intimidation tactic by the government agencies responsible for a scandal."

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.

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.

Official denials

On May 8th, before the scandal broke, Takahide Naruko, an official with the Japanese Fisheries Agency, was asked by investigators whether sailors "bring back some whale meat as private souvenirs," to which he replied "Of course not," explaining that the distribution of whale meat was only through official channels, at a price set by the Fisheries Agency to offset the costs of the publicly funded whaling program. 

Following the revelations, Kyodo Senpaku, the company that runs the whaling ship, also at first denied that any whale meat was being given away or sold outside official channels, then changed their story to claim that some "souvenirs" were given to crew members.  Even so, these souvenirs were described to be a few kilos of frozen whale meat -- very different from 23.5 kilos of prime cuts uncovered by Greenpeace, which the crew salt-pickle in their cabins. 

On May 28th, an editorial in Asahi Shinbum noted the contradiction between claims by the Institute for Cetacean Research that souvenirs were being handed out, and the claims by Kyodo Senpaku that they were not.  The newspaper called the "contrived explanations" suspicious and asked for a full investigation.

"The whaling program in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is funded by the Japanese taxpayers, including the Greenpeace activists who have been arrested, and they have a right to know who is profiting from their money," said Mister Hoshikawa.

"The Japanese whaling program has been shamed internationally for its lack of scientific credibility, now it is being shamed at home as well for trying to hide the corruption, and now for taking revenge on those who have exposed it. The Greenpeace activists should be immediately released."

Take action

Write to Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura to demand the release of our activists.

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