On Tuesday, police arrested Masato Sawahara, the 42-year-old manager of the main branch of Osaka Tora Fugu no Kai, located in Tennoji Ward, for allegedly serving course meals containing the liver of a tora fugu, or tiger blowfish, in sliced (sashimi) form.
Osaka Tora Fugu no Kai has three other branches. Another shop manager and six other persons were also arrested in the case.
In March, the chain’s restaurant in Higashisumiyoshi Ward halted operations after a search by police on suspicious of violations of the Food Sanitation Act. There have been no reports of customers becoming sick after consuming the fish.
Sawahara denies the allegations. “I knew the liver was being served at the restaurant but I did not give the instruction,” the suspect is quoted. The other shop manager admits to the charges.
With the liver and various other internal organs of fugu containing the deadly poison Tetrodotoxin, a license is necessary to prepare the flesh of the fish in Japan. Offering the liver and organs in any form is illegal.
To eat the liver, customers will typically make special arrangements with a restaurant. However, there can be severe consequences. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that approximately 50 people fall victim to poisoning via fugu annually, with several of them succumbing to the toxin.
The Osaka chain’s four branches operate on a membership system in which the addresses and phone numbers for the restaurants are not made available to the public. According to media sources, the outlets are frequented by entertainers, athletes and politicians.