Japan charges Greenpeace members over whale theft
TOKYO (Reuters) - Environmental group Greenpeace said on Friday two of its activists had been charged with stealing a box of whale meat while conducting a covert operation into suspected cases of embezzlement.
The public prosecutors office in Aomori, northern Japan, charged Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki with theft and trespass, the group said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Aomori Public Prosecutors Office declined to comment.
Greenpeace had used the meat as evidence when complaining to prosecutors that members of Japan's whaling fleet crew shipped large quantities of the meat home, which they said amounted to embezzlement.
Japan has come under fire from environmentalists and foreign countries for its whaling program. The government says its whaling is for scientific research purposes.
Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 international moratorium, but Tokyo has campaigned for a lifting of the ban, saying whaling is part of the country's cultural tradition.
A recent poll showed that a majority of Japanese support whaling, although whale meat is now less popular among the public than in the past.
The country's fleet caught only 551 minke whales compared with a planned 850 in its latest Antarctic hunt, after obstruction by anti-whalers.
(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)