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Education ministry faces second bribery indictment; accused linked to lawmaker

Kazuaki Kawabata (Mainichi)

The special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is poised to indict a former senior official of the education ministry and a former executive of a consulting firm in Tokyo on bribery charges as early as Aug. 15, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

This partially edited image shows a business card of Koji Taniguchi. (Mainichi)

The former board member of a medical consulting company, Koji Taniguchi, 47, allegedly wined and dined Kazuaki Kawabata, 57, former director-general for international affairs at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Technology and Science, who also served as a board member of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Taniguchi is suspected of bribing Kawabata to win favorable treatment by the ministry.

Taniguchi doubled as a "policy adviser" to a member of the Diet, and a person close to the ministry said, "He appeared to be using his political connections to make inroads into the bureaucratic community."

The indictment will come on the heels of another bribery scandal in which a senior education ministry official, Futoshi Sano, also faces trial on charges of accepting bribes in the form of his son's backdoor entry into Tokyo Medical University in return for helping the school win tens of millions of yen in ministry subsidies. In this case too, Taniguchi was a point man between Sano and top Tokyo Medical University officials, who have also been indicted on bribery charges.

According to the prosecutors, Taniguchi repeatedly treated Kawabata from August 2015 through March 2017 at bars and restaurants, footing bills totaling some 1.4 million yen.

An individual close to Kawabata told the Mainichi Shimbun that they trusted the former consultant because he was a policy adviser to an opposition lawmaker. The person testified that Kawabata and Taniguchi deepened their ties because the latter had a business card saying he was a policy adviser to a member of the House of Councillors, who was a Cabinet member when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power from 2009 through 2012.

The business card seemed to have significant power, and drinking and eating occasions organized by the former consultant were sometimes attended by top education officials at the level of administrative vice minister, the highest ranking bureaucrat in the ministry. Many officials who took part in those sessions considered Taniguchi as "someone from the office of a member of the Diet."

Taniguchi obtained an entry pass to the National Diet with the introduction of another opposition legislator in the House of Representatives around 2014, although issuing of the pass is restricted to a limited number of people. The pass allowed the holder to freely enter the Diet and almost all government ministries and agencies. The lower house member reportedly sometimes attended gatherings among Taniguchi and bureaucrats.

A person who knows Taniguchi explained that he just wanted a connection with bureaucrats. "It didn't matter if the connection was a ruling party or opposition politician. Once he got it he just won over the bureaucrats by wining and dining them."

The two lawmakers told the Mainichi Shimbun that they knew Taniguchi, but did not answer questions about why they ended up letting the former consultant use the business card and the pass.

Taniguchi was also involved in the management of a sports organization. He joined the board of a general incorporated association set up in April 2017 to improve the legal compliance of the sports community. Kawabata introduced him to a senior Japan Sports Agency official who originally came from the education ministry.

After the association was established, Taniguchi requested young opposition lawmakers to ask questions in the Diet so that his organization would be able to win government contracts. He even told a secretary to a junior lawmaker that he would give them the questions, adding, "The only thing you need to do is to read them (in the Diet)."

The secretary turned down the request. "My instinct told me it was dangerous," the secretary said. "Had I accepted his request I would have been made to do illegal things."

(Japanese original by Shusaku Sugimoto, Tomohiro Katahira and Kenji Tatsumi, City News Department)

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