TOKYO (AFP) — Japanese police on Friday arrested two Greenpeace members who had alleged corruption in the country's controversial whaling programme, accusing the activists of stealing whale meat.

Japanese police on Friday arrested two Greenpeace members who had alleged corruption in the country's controversial whaling programme, accusing the activists of stealing whale meat.
Police raided five locations, including the international environmental group's Japan headquarters in Tokyo, officials said.

Police arrested Junichi Sato, 31, a prominent voice in the media
against whaling, and fellow Greenpeace member Toru Suzuki, 41, a police
spokesman said. Last month, Greenpeace said a lengthy investigation revealed that
whalers on the taxpayer-backed hunt had taken home meat and sold it on
the black market. It intercepted one box of meat and handed it to prosecutors in Tokyo as
evidence, seeking action against 12 crew members on the whaling ship. A spokesman for police in northern Aomori prefecture, where the meat
seizure took place on April 16, said Sato and Suzuki were arrested for
trespassing and theft. Greenpeace denounced the arrests as an "intimidation tactic" by the government.

"We've uncovered a scandal involving powerful forces in the Japanese
government that benefit from whaling, and it's not surprising they are
striking back," said Greenpeace Japan's executive director Jun
Hoshikawa. "What is surprising is that these activists, who are innocent of any
crime, would be arrested for returning whale meat that was stolen from
Japanese taxpayers," he said. Greenpeace, along with most Western countries led by Australia, is
strongly opposed to Japan's whaling programme, which kills some 1,000
of the ocean giants a year.

The Japanese government, which says whaling is part of the culture,
carries out the hunt using a loophole in a 1986 international
moratorium that allows "lethal research" on whales.

The annual hunt in Antarctic waters has been repeatedly disrupted by activists.
Sea Shepherd, a group more militant than Greenpeace, has hurled stink
bombs at the whalers, leading Japan to brand environmentalists
terrorists.

The arrests come just days before the International Whaling Commission
(IWC) holds its annual meeting in the Chilean capital Santiago. The gatherings have turned into bitter showdowns between supporters of
maintaining or strengthening the moratorium on whaling versus
pro-whaling forces. Norway and Iceland are the only countries that openly defy the
moratorium on commercial whaling. Activists accuse Japan of using its
foreign aid to persuade developing countries with little history of
whaling to join its side at the IWC.

Sato, writing on Greenpeace Japan's blog shortly before his arrest,
appealed for a continued probe into the alleged whale meat embezzlement.

"I just want to appeal to the hearts of people involved in the whale
embezzlement case: 'Do you think it's alright to remain silent?'" Sato
wrote.

"If Japan wants to take the lead as an environmentally advanced
country, please, conduct diplomacy that can turn international friction
into cooperation," he wrote.

Kazuo Hizumi, a lawyer for Greenpeace Japan, hoped the prosecutors' probe into the whale meat would continue. "The raids must not affect the investigation into the embezzlement accusation," he told reporters at the group's headquarters.

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