A shady connection between politics and money has once again surfaced.
Suspicions have arisen that former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Takamori Yoshikawa, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), received 5 million yen (about $48,000) in cash during his term as minister from the former head of the Akita Foods Co. group, a major egg producer in Hiroshima Prefecture.
The former head of Akita Foods was a leading figure in the industry, and had repeatedly lobbied the government and Diet members. He has reportedly admitted having handed the money over to Yoshikawa.
The agriculture minister has wide-ranging jurisdiction over government policy on farming, and it is possible the suspicions could develop into a bribery scandal. The special investigative unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office should thoroughly investigate the case.
At the time, international standards on animal welfare were being developed to ensure that farm animals were raised in a stress-free environment. The proposed standards would have pressured Japan to review its approach to poultry farming, under which chickens are predominantly raised in cages, and they were opposed by industry groups. The Japanese government submitted a dissenting opinion, and the standards were amended.
Japan’s poultry industry had also sought expansion of a government program that covers farmers’ losses when egg prices drop.
Suspicions have surfaced that the cash gift influenced government policy on such issues. Opposition parties pursued the matter in the committees on agriculture, forestry and fisheries in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet on Dec. 8, but the government refused to respond, citing the possible effects on an investigation.
After the suspicions were reported, Yoshikawa resigned from his position in the LDP, saying he needed to be hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. Regarding the suspicions, a comment he released merely stated, “If I am asked by authorities for an explanation, I will respond sincerely.”
It is suspected that Yoshikawa received some of the cash in the minister’s office. He needs to properly explain the facts.
Under the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, prosecutors indicted former state minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism Tsukasa Akimoto on suspicion of receiving bribes, while former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai was indicted on a charge of violating the Public Offices Election Act.
The former prime minister himself is facing an investigation over funding for dinner functions hosted by his support group held on the eve of state-funded cherry blossom viewing parties.
Separately, Akira Amari, the former economic revitalization minister, received money from a construction firm in the minister’s office.
The incidents show a gross lack of ethics, seemingly the result of the arrogance and slackness of a long-running administration. The fact that public prosecutors had been cautious in recent years with respect to political investigations likely also had some effect.
Yoshikawa served as chief secretary of the campaign for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the LDP’s presidential election, and was also executive secretary of the faction led by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai. As the allegations are brought to light, Suga and Nikai also bear a heavy responsibility.