Police in Japan have arrested a suspect in the country’s recent food poisoning scandal. The 49-year-old suspect is Toshiki Abe, an employee of the Aqli Foods frozen food factory located north of Tokyo in the Gunma prefecture in Japan. Aqli Foods is a known subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings, Japan’s biggest seafood company.
So far the suspected employee has been denying the allegations that he had anything to do with the deliberate food poisoning, but Abe has not been unable to explain his 10-day absence where he went missing before his arrest.
The poisoning of the food has been estimated to have made at least 2,843 ill after eating Aqli Foods products that were suspected to be the cause of vomiting, diarrhea and cramps. One of the items that are suspected to have been poisoned was a frozen pizza product that was reported back in November of smelling like engine oil. However, the tainted product was not recalled until December 29.
Tests conducted on the frozen pizzas found chemical traces of Malathion which is a common pesticide including being used for the treatment of head lice. Malathion is a popular chemical pesticide in farming and gardening and can be purchased easily at any garden center stores. The U.S. Center for Disease Control says that the chemical can cause death in higher concentrations.
The chemical was also found in gratin and corn croquettes and chicken nuggets. Aqli Foods launched a recall on their tainted products and have recovered 5.5 million packages as of January 21, with another half million products still to be recovered.
At first Japanese police were looking for a suspect in the packaging department at Aqli Foods because the poison was found in numerous food product lines. Once into their investigation the police found that workers were allowed to move between the departments and product lines.
The Japanese suspect, Abe, worked with pizza dough on the frozen pizza production line and happened to work on the exact days when all of the poisoning of products occurred. Aqli Foods submitted a damage report to police on January 10 that prompted a deeper investigation into the food poisoning scandal by conducting a more thorough questioning of all of the plant’s employees. Police began to turn their attention toward Abe when his family reported him missing on January 14. Abe was found in a parking lot in the neighboring prefecture of Saitama on January 24 and was arrested shortly after.
Abe was employed as a contractor at the Aqli Foods factory since 2005. Being a contractor, Abe had to renew his contract every 6 months causing him to lose benefits that were given to his co-workers. His neighbors verified that Abe had complained that he was facing difficulties that were brought on by his low salary being a contract worker. However, Abe’s motive is still under investigation but police are suspecting that Abe tampered with the products to obstruct the factory’s business operations and trying to force a recall and shutdown.
The president of Maruha Nichiro Holdings, Toshio Kushiro, has taken responsibility for the poisonings by stating that he will resign on March 31. Maruha Nichiro has lowered their yearly revenue forecasts from 7 billion yen to 4.5 billion. Due to consumers now shunning their products, Maruha Nichiro has decided to cut production in their Yubari factory located in northern Japan.
Police are still questioning the arrested suspect as they look deeper into Japan’s food poisoning scandal.
By Brent Matsalla