Normative Awareness Lacking in Bribery Scandal Involving Ex-minister

Once again, suspicions surrounding “politics and money” under the previous administration have developed into an incident.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has searched the office of former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa, who was a House of Representatives member of the Liberal Democratic Party, on suspicion of receiving bribes.

Yoshikawa is suspected of receiving ¥5 million in cash in three installments from a former representative of major egg producing company Akita Foods Co., from autumn 2018 to summer 2019, when he was serving as the farm minister under then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Both Yoshikawa and the former representative have admitted to receiving and giving the cash during questioning.

Some of the cash was said to have been accepted at the minister’s office. The lack of a normative awareness is nothing short of surprising.

Yoshikawa was quoted as saying: “They left the money. I meant to return it.” Even so, it is difficult to understand why he kept the cash for a lengthy amount of time.

Cabinet ministers have a wide range of authority. It is only natural to think that the company intended to seek returns for the money it had given. Moreover, the former representative was the head of the company, which is a leading firm of an industry that is under the jurisdiction of the ministry.

At that time, an international organization had drawn up draft guidelines for raising livestock in a less stressful environment from the perspective of animal welfare. In Japan, most chickens are kept in cages and the former representative, a senior official of an industry group, was against the draft guidelines.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry requested the international organizations to revise the guidelines during the period when the money was given to Yoshikawa. Isn’t there the possibility that Yoshikawa has tried to reflect the wishes of the former representative? It is hoped the prosecutors will thoroughly investigate the case, including how the money was used.

Yoshikawa was serving as acting chairman of the LDP’s Election Strategy Committee. He resigned from the Diet on the grounds that he was in poor health, but this will deal a heavy blow to the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Koya Nishikawa, former agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister and a former special adviser to the Cabinet, is alleged to have received some millions of yen in cash from the same firm. Nishikawa, along with a former ministry bureaucrat, is believed to have been wined and dined by the company.

Confidence in the agricultural and fisheries administration has been greatly damaged. Yoshikawa and Nishikawa must be fully accountable.

There have been a series of incidents involving LDP Diet members under the Abe administration. Earlier this year, Tsukasa Akimoto, a House of Representatives member, was indicted on bribery charges in connection with a project for an integrated resort with a casino. This summer, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, Anri Kawai, a member of the House of Councillors, were indicted on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law.

Abe’s secretary also received a summary order on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law over the dinner parties held on the eve of Abe’s cherry blossom-viewing events.

This may be the result of the lack of a sense of urgency and prevalence of arrogant attitudes of a long-term administration described as “one strong, many weak.” Suga must eliminate laxity and tighten his grip on the situation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 27, 2020.