Fruit Laundering: Japanese Farmers Startled by Brazen Thefts

Fruit Laundering: Japanese Farmers Startled by Brazen Thefts

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Fruit theft
Picture: Haru photography / PIXTA(ピクスタ); Canva
Luxury Japanese fruit sells for a pretty penny. That's motivating organized crime rings to turn to fruit theft as a new source of income.

A string of fruit thefts targeting luxury peaches and grapes started in June this year. Here’s how a new robbery just last week caps a string of daring produce heists.

Yamanashi Prefecture: Fruit heaven to crime scene

Shine muscat grapes
Picture: Yoshitaka / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Yamanashi Prefecture is Japan’s fruit heaven.

The fruit farming system in the alluvial fans in Yamanashi Prefecture’s Kyotō (峡東) area earned recognition as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage (GIAHS) by the United Nations this July. Peaches from the Kyotō area are high-quality products that sell for as much as ¥800 ($5.36 USD) each in luxury fruit shops and department stores.

But during harvest season this year, fruit heaven became a crime scene.

A total of approximately 17,000 peaches were lost to theft between mid-June and mid-July in Yamanashi Prefecture. The total damages of peach thefts alone amounted to ¥4,000,000 ($26,778 USD).

Yamanashi Prefecture has seen a total of almost 40 cases of fruit theft resulting in ¥8,500,000 ($56,903 USD) since this June.

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Private security companies and local firefighters are patrolling the area with farmers during the night, according to Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA).

June 15th, Fuefuki City (笛吹市)

Peaches from Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture

1,400 peaches went missing from Japan’s number one peach farm in Fuefuki City on June 15th. Two days later, 1,500 peaches went missing in Japan’s number three peach producer in Yamanashi City.

A mass sale of peaches took place on an online market app a day after the peach theft in Yamanashi Prefecture. The seller and buyer communicated in Vietnamese, raising the possibility that the exchange took place between Vietnamese nationals. Vietnamese nationals have also been involved in previous fruit thefts, such as one robbery in Gunma Prefecture last year when 5,000 pears went missing.

The police arrested a group of Vietnamese nationals for theft and found this crime to be part of an organizational operation. Some media outlets have used the term “fruit laundering” to describe such organizational crimes.

July 1st, Fuefuki City again

Over 300 peaches nearly went missing on July 1st from a field in Fuefuki City.

The male owner of the peach farm noticed a large quantity of peaches missing and filed a police report. Police soon found the missing peaches in baskets near the site, along with an abandoned car from Tokyo.

Police are investigating the case as an attempted robbery and speculate that the criminals fled the scene in fear of getting caught.

The theft targeted approximately 350 peaches of Akatsuki and Hakuhō varieties, costing the farm nearly ¥100,000 ($699 USD) in damages.

“The peaches were just three or four days away from shipment, so it’s unfortunate that we incurred this damage,” says the farm owner.

August 25th, Imari City (伊万里市) Saga Prefecture

Imari Shrine in Imari, Saga Prefecture
Imari Shrine in Imari, Saga Prefecture (Picture: M・H / PIXTA(ピクスタ))

Almost 300 bunches of Shine Muscats went missing in a theft that targeted Takada Farm in Minamihatachō (南波多町) in Imari City, Saga Prefecture on August 25th, amounting to a loss of ¥750,000 ($5,020 USD).

The thieves left clues indicating that they were professionals. Unripe grapes were left behind. The thieves had the knowledge to pick only the grapes that were ripe and ready for harvest.

“(The thieves) must be pros. They are either someone in the grape farming industry or someone who knows a lot about it.” says Takada Fumikazu, the owner of Takada Farm.

Some speculate that these fruit thieves also know how to sell the stolen articles in large stocks to supply chains. Police say that the stolen fruit passes into the hands of traders or goes on sale on online market apps which makes tracing the criminals harder and prosecuting them nearly impossible.

September 28th, Minami-Alps City (南アルプス市) Yamanashi Prefecture

Shine muscat grapes
Picture: shige hattori / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Police launched an investigation into the disappearance of nearly 400 bunches of grapes from a field in Minami-Apls City, Yamanashi Prefecture on September 28th.

Approximately 200 clusters of Shine Muscat grapes and 170 clusters of Fujiminori grapes were lost. The missing grapes amount to ¥350,000 ($2,343 USD).

A similar theft had occurred just a month ago in August at the same grape field. The owner did not report the first theft but called police the day after the second.

“(The field’s) security cameras might have captured the criminal,” says the owner, a male in his 60s whose name is unknown.

“I plan to ramp up measures by increasing security cameras and installing motion detectors.”

Yamanashi Prefecture has seen a string of theft crimes of peaches and grapes since this June. Police are now making patrol rounds in fruit fields to strengthen security.

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Sources

[1] 許すまじ窃盗犯!相次ぐ桃泥棒の被害【噂の!東京マガジン「噂の現場」】. TBS NEWS

[2] 山梨 笛吹 桃300個以上もぎ取られ放置 車も残し逃走か. NHK

[3] シャインマスカットが盗まれた! 「プロの仕業」か 高級果実の窃盗相次ぐ 農家の嘆きと憤り. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN

[4] シャインマスカットなど約400房持ち去られる 山梨 南アルプス. NHK

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