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Drug Company Ex-President Could Face Trial in Japan’s AIDS Scandal

August 21, 1996

TOKYO (AP) _ Prosecutors raided a major Japanese drug company Wednesday, raising the likelihood that its former president will face criminal charges for selling AIDS-tainted blood products.

Renzo Matsushita, former head of Green Cross Corp., is accused of letting tainted products on the market even after a safe alternative became available in late 1985.

Wednesday’s raid marks the start of the first criminal investigation into why major drug companies and the Health and Welfare Ministry did not heed warnings from the United States in 1983 that unheated blood products were dangerous.

The ministry didn’t approve heated _ that is, sterilized _ blood products until late 1985, and even then didn’t order drug companies to pull the old products off the shelves.

More than 400 people in Japan, mostly hemophiliacs, have died of AIDS as a result of receiving transfusions tainted by the virus that causes the disease. About 2,000 were infected.

Earlier this year, the government and five pharmaceutical firms, including Green Cross, reached a settlement with affected patients and their families who had sued for damages.

Matsushita has said that his company kept selling the unheated blood products because the government didn’t tell it to stop. On Wednesday, he said he will cooperate with investigators.

``Whatever the details, I am sorry that this has happened, and I want to express my deep apologies,″ said Matsushita, 75, who joined Green Cross after a career in the health ministry.

Victims demanded that Matsushita be charged with murder rather than the lighter offense of criminal negligence causing death, which is reportedly the charge prosecutors are considering.

``Even though they knew it was dangerous, they continued to provide these dangerous blood products. That is nothing other than murder,″ said Etsuko Kawada, mother of an infected hemophiliac.

Dozens of investigators spent 12 hours at the Osaka headquarters of Green Cross on Wednesday, confiscating a reported 500 boxes of documents.

While prosecutors didn’t say who they were investigating, the raid followed a criminal complaint filed against Matsushita by the widow of a man who died of AIDS last year. The patient received a blood transfusion in April 1986.

Also, Tokyo prosecutors are investigating a doctor who formerly headed a health ministry AIDS panel.

The doctor, Takeshi Abe, is accused of blocking the emergency import of heat-treated products to help Green Cross, which was falling behind foreign companies in developing safer blood products.

Wednesday’s raid sent Green Cross stock down 37 points, or 6.9 percent. The company has faced a nationwide boycott because of its sale of untreated blood products.

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