Intended for healthcare professionals


Drug company bosses jailed for selling HIV infected products

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 04 March 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:601
  1. Joe Lamar
  1. Tokyo

    In a landmark ruling on Japan's worst health scandal, three drug company executives were given a prison sentence last week for their role in the AIDS related deaths of about 500 haemophilic people.

    The Osaka High Court found Renzo Matsushita, a former president of the Osaka based Green Cross company, and two of his colleagues—Tadakazu Suyama and Takehiko Kawano—guilty of professional negligence resulting in death.

    Presiding Judge Mikio Miyoshi said that they had “put profits before safety” in 1985 by selling untreated blood products, despite being aware of the risks that they posed.

    About 1800 haemophilic patients were infected with HIV from contaminated Green Cross agents. More than a quarter of these patients have since died. Another 500 have developed full blown AIDS.

    The HIV scandal, which came to light in 1996, exposed the unhealthily close links between corporate executives, civil servants, and supposedly independent academics. Mr Matsushita, who was a senior health ministry official before taking the top post at Green Cross, is believed to have influenced ministry inspectors to play down the risks of untreated blood products from the United States.

    The judge said that he and his colleagues were unwilling to destroy their stocks and recall earlier shipments because of the costs involved.

    The three pleaded guilty at the start of the trial in 1997 but said that blame should be shared with the health ministry, which did not issue a warning about the risks and covered up the scandal.

    This argument was not accepted by the judge. “The fault of the accused is extremely serious,” Judge Miyoshi said in sentencing Mr Matsushita to two years in jail, Mr Suyama to 18 months, and Mr Kawano to 16 months.

    Victims, however, said that these convictions—the first for Japanese pharmaceutical executives—were too lenient. Many have filed civil lawsuits demanding compensation in addition to the 24 billion yen (£83m; $133m)that Green Cross has already paid in damages.

    In a related trial, former health bureaucrat Akihito Matsumura and Takeshi Abe, an academic who led a ministry panel on the safety of blood products, face charges of professional negligence for their alleged role in the scandal.