What was given in exchange for the provision of cash that continued for a long period? Prosecutors need to uncover the structure of the collusion through investigation and trial.
The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has indicted without arrest former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa on charges of taking bribes. During his tenure as agriculture minister, he allegedly received ¥5 million in cash on three occasions from a former representative of Akita Foods Co., a major egg producer in Hiroshima Prefecture.
In addition, Yoshikawa is said to have received a total of ¥13 million from the former representative before and after his tenure as farm minister. These were all “slush funds” that were not included in his political funds reports. Yoshikawa bears a grave responsibility for damaging trust in the administration of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
During questioning, Yoshikawa is said to have admitted to receiving the cash, but denied that it was a bribe.
The cash was provided to Yoshikawa two or three times a year since around 2015, with no significant changes in the amount of each handout before, during and after his tenure as farm minister. He may be trying to claim that the ¥5 million was part of the former representative’s regular fund provision and that the cash did not have any special purpose.
The prosecutors see the cash as a bribe in return for two requests made by the former representative to Yoshikawa. One was to oppose the proposed guidelines of an international organization that would force changes in the way chickens are raised, and the other was to expand loans to small and medium-sized poultry farmers from a government-affiliated financial institution.
Both of these are directly related to the interests of the poultry industry and the former representative. As part of their collusive relationship, Yoshikawa may have been asked to provide various other favors.
The former representative, who has been indicted on a charge of providing bribes, is said to have given detailed statements of the scenes of cash provision. It is hoped that the prosecutors will gather objective evidence to uncover the circumstances of the collusion. It will be important to reveal the purpose and use of the cash.
Yoshikawa has not given any details about the incident. He was hospitalized for heart surgery at the end of the year, and plans to arrest him were dropped. As soon as he recovers, he will have to be held accountable.
There are some things that are still unclear. In addition to the bribes Yoshikawa allegedly received, the other ¥13 million seems to be a clear violation of the Political Funds Control Law, so why can’t he be charged with a crime? Likewise, can former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Koya Nishikawa, who is also believed to have received a large amount of cash from the same company, be held criminally responsible?
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s secretary was summarily indicted for violating the law for failing to record income and expenditure from dinner parties on the eve of cherry blossom viewing parties. Will there be consistency between the current incident and this case?
If doubts remain, it will not only lead to speculation but may also invite criticism that the prosecutors’ decision is arbitrary. The prosecutors have a responsibility to provide explanations that the public can accept.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 16, 2021.