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More senior education officials wined and dined by bribery suspect, questioned by prosecutors

The headquarters of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- More senior officials at the education ministry, which has been shaken by the latest bribery scandal linked to Japan's space agency, were wined and dined by a former company executive at the center of the case, ministry sources have disclosed.

The special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has already questioned a number of senior officials at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in connection with the bribery case. The prosecutors raided the MEXT administrative vice minister's office in central Tokyo and the Tsukuba Space Center of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in the city of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo, on July 26 and 27, according to the sources.

In the bribery case, prosecutors have arrested an ex-consulting firm board member, Koji Taniguchi, 47, on suspicion of bribing Kazuaki Kawabata, 59, a senior MEXT official on loan to JAXA as a director, by wining and dining that came to a total of some 1.4 million yen between August 2015 and March 2017. Taniguchi allegedly did so seeking favorable treatment of his company from the ministry.

According to ministry sources, Taniguchi invited multiple officials at the level of director-general, as well as former bureaucrats, to restaurants and drinking establishments. The recipients of the favors included Futoshi Sano, former director-general of the MEXT's Science and Technology Policy Bureau. Sano has already been indicted on charges of accepting bribes from Tokyo Medical University top officials in the form of backdoor admission to the school for his son, in return for helping the university win a multimillion yen ministry grant.

The drinking sessions allegedly hosted by Taniguchi for those senior education ministry officials may not constitute a bribe under the Penal Code, but the ethics regulations for national public officials ban excessive restaurant and drinking establishment trips. However, the regulations do not include administrative punishments.

Kawabata was treated at high-class bars and restaurants, and also received tickets to pay for taxi rides. Kawabata is believed to have met Taniguchi between 2011 and 2012, when he headed the MEXT Management and Coordination Division. Kawabata allegedly introduced Taniguchi to Sano, who was his successor to the position.

A ministry source said that some senior officials got their cellphone records checked by prosecutors, and added, "Ministry people are extremely worried how far the investigation will go."

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

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