Activists charged for exposing whale meat scandal

Greenpeace denounces charges as disproportionate and politically motivated

Feature story - 11 July, 2008
Our Japanese activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were charged with theft and trespass today 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 programme. Junichi and Toru continue to be held in detention in Aomori, where they have been since their arrest on June 10th, despite widespread international protest.

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign coordinator Junichi Sato, with whale meat that was stolen from Japanese taxpayers, and which he provided as evidence to the government -- only to be arrested and charged for doing so.

[ Update - 15 July 2008 -  Junichi and Toru have been released on bail. ]

They exposed the whale-meat embezzlement scandal on May 15th, when they presented a box of whale meat stolen by 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 programme, 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."

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 the 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 programme," said Gerd Leipold, Greenpeace International Executive Director.

"We have exposed a scandal at the heart of the whaling programme, 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.

"Instead of prosecuting peaceful protesters and those who exposed crimes within the whaling programme, 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."

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 Organsiation) 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".

Almost quarter of a 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 out of detention, 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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