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PROBE OF JAPANESE DRUG FIRM BEGINS

SHARE PROBE OF JAPANESE DRUG FIRM BEGINS

Prosecutors began a criminal investigation Wednesday into whether a major Japanese pharmaceutical firm was guilty of negligence for selling blood products tainted with AIDS.

The Green Cross Corp. is accused of selling unheated blood products after learning in 1983 that the blood could infect the users with AIDS, and of continuing to sell the blood after a safer alternative was available.Public television network NHK showed dozens of investigators raiding the company's Osaka headquarters Wednesday, sending its stock plummeting 9.5 percent by midmorning.

Green Cross had no comment on the raids.

The company is facing a nationwide boycott of its products because of the scandal, and the family of one victim has lodged a criminal complaint against a former Green Cross president in connection with the death of a family member.

Earlier this year, the government and five pharmaceutical firms including Green Cross reached an out-of-court settlement with affected patients and their families.