Japan slams officials over whale meat gifts

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The Japanese fisheries agency has warned officials not to accept whale meat as gifts from whalers, amid embezzlement allegations involving tax-funded whaling programmes, reports said Wednesday.

The five officials were reprimanded for accepting three to seven kilograms (6.6 to 15.4 pounds) of meat from a private fisheries firm that was contracted to conduct whaling, local media reported, citing agency sources.

The packages of whale meat were estimated to be worth 180 to 840 dollars, Jiji Press said, adding that one of the officials later returned the meat.

Officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

The reports came as activist group Greenpeace presses Tokyo to probe claims that whalers, politicians and officials have illegally taken meat from Japan’s tax-funded whaling projects in an embezzlement-like scheme.

Japan hunts whales for what it calls scientific purposes, using a loophole to a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows lethal research.

But Tokyo, which says whaling is part of its culture, makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on the commercial market through official channels to pay for more whaling programmes.

In September, Greenpeace activists received suspended one-year jail terms for stealing a box of whale meat that the group said was proof of embezzlement in state-run whaling.