TOKYO Feb 5 Japan's health minister on Tuesday
raised the possibility that someone had deliberately contaminated
with pesticide Chinese-made dumplings imported into Japan in an
incident that sickened 10 Japanese and sparked a huge food scare.
Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe's comment came as Japanese
police called for close cooperation with Chinese counterparts in
investigating the case, which has prompted huge Japanese media
coverage and health queries from nearly 4,000 people.
The mystery of the poison dumplings is a delicate matter for
sensitive Sino-Japanese ties and a domestic headache for Prime
Minister Yasuo Fukuda, given criticism from media and opposition
lawmakers that it took too long to alert the public.
"The circumstantial evidence suggests substantial possibility
of criminality," Masuzoe told a news conference.
Investigators have yet to identify the source of the
contamination in the latest furore over the safety of Chinese
products ranging from tainted pet food to toothpaste.
Chinese food quality officials have said that sample tests on
the frozen dumplings, ingredients and packaging at the factory
concerned had found no pesticide.
Japanese experts have said the chemical is used widely in
China but not in Japan, although Kyodo news agency said China
banned its use this year.
However, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura
told reporters it was too soon to tell if the contamination had
"I don't think we should hastily say that this is a
(criminal) incident or the like at a stage when the facts are not
yet clear," he said.
DAMPENING DIPLOMATIC FALLOUT
Japanese police declined to rule out the possibility of
criminal intent. "We are investigating while keeping all
possibilities in mind," a spokesman for police in Hyogo, western
Japan, where three of the 10 people fell ill.
Japanese officials are in China to look into the case, which
became public when a food trading subsidiary of Japan Tobacco Inc
last week recalled products made at the factory that produced the
Other firms followed suit, and restaurants, schools and even
the Japanese military pulled products from their menus.
Chinese officials have travelled to Japan to cooperate over
the case, which both countries seem eager to keep from harming
two-way ties ahead of a high-profile visit by Chinese President
Hu Jintao this spring, the first such trip in a decade.
As of Tuesday, 3,732 people had made inquiries to health
officials about possible illness from eating the products, but no
fresh cases of illness had been confirmed, Machimura said.
Tsuyoshi Yoneda, head of Japan's National Police Agency's
criminal investigation bureau, said his agency wanted Chinese
police to cooperate in probing the affair.
"We are not prejudging the situation, but it is a problem
that straddles both Japan and China," Kyodo quoted Yoneda as
telling a joint meeting of Japanese investigators. No Japanese
police are included in the team currently in China.
(Additional reporting by George Nishiyama and Teruaki Ueno;
Editing by Rodney Joyce)