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Overseas trip, meeting with sumo wrestler used to hook education ministry official

Kazuaki Kawabata (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Suggestions of meeting a sumo wrestler and inviting relatives to an overseas trip were among proposals a former medical consultancy executive made to a former senior education ministry bureaucrat in a bribery case resulting in their indictment on Aug. 15.

Koji Taniguchi, 47, a former board member at a Tokyo medical consulting firm, allegedly wined and dined Kazuaki Kawabata, 57, a former education ministry director-general who was on loan to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as a board director. Tokyo prosecutors suspect that the ex-executive did so to extract favors for his company.

According to people familiar with the relationship between the two, Kawabata was invited by Taniguchi to have a meal together with a yokozuna sumo wrestler, and to take Kawabata's relatives to the Philippine island of Cebu.

Before his arrest in late July, Kawabata told people close to him that he often went to a yakitori chicken skewer restaurant in the posh Ginza district in central Tokyo with Taniguchi. "We also went to a bar in Ginza but many people were there and it didn't feel like I was being wined and dined," he was quoted as saying by those people.

Kawabata also had a meal together with Masahiko Usui, 77, former chairman of Tokyo Medical University, who has been indicted on a charge of bribing Futoshi Sano, another high-ranking bureaucrat at the education ministry. Sano allegedly had his son admitted to the school through the back door in return for helping the university win a ministry subsidy.

The meeting between Kawabata and Usui was arranged by Taniguchi. Kawabata explained that Usui asked him how to invite an astronaut to the university centennial ceremony and that he simply explained how. However, the special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office judged that eating and drinking at a bar in Ginza constituted a bribe to Kawabata, and that sending an astronaut to the event constituted providing a favor to Taniguchi in return for the wining and dining.

It is understood that prosecutors presented recordings of conversations at those eating and drinking occasions, which Taniguchi had kept, to Kawabata during questioning, and that the bureaucrat has come to admit to most of the bribery charges.

A person who knows Kawabata said that he had a hardworking, modest personality. "But he was a senior official who was supposed to be a role model, so he cannot justify this affair by saying he was preyed on," the acquaintance said.

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi and Kazuhiro Toyama, City News Department)

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