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Education ministry bureaucrat resigning in wake of corruption scandals says he was 'naive'

Kazuo Todani, administrative vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, bows as he is interviewed by the media at the education ministry on Sept. 21, 2018. (Mainichi)
The entrance to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is seen on July 23, 2018. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Oba)

TOKYO -- One of two top education ministry bureaucrats who resigned in the wake of a recent corruption probe has admitted he was naive to think he could meet with politicians while being wined and dined.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced Sept. 21 that top bureaucrat Kazuo Todani, 61, and Michiyasu Takahashi, 57, head of the Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, had stepped down. They were earlier slapped with wage cuts over the cases under the rules for ethics for national government officials.

According to a preliminary report compiled by an in-house fact-finding team, five officials including Todani and Takahashi were wined and dined by a former executive of a consulting company who was linked to a series of corruption cases involving ministry officials. The others are Higher Education Bureau head Hiroshi Yoshimoto, 56, General Affairs Division chief Yasuyoshi Kakita, 53, and an unnamed former senior official of the Japan Sports Agency.

The report said Todani dined with six people including the former executive at a restaurant in the Yotsuya district of Tokyo in October 2015 at the invitation of a former legislator, when Todani was deputy minister of education. He subsequently traveled to the capital's upscale Ginza district by taxi to participate in a second round of entertainment at a nightclub there. Todani did not pay any part of his bill, which totaled at least 62,000 yen.

During a probe by the fact-finding team, Todani explained that he had thought there would be no problem even if he was entertained by the former legislator on the grounds that the politician was not an interested party who could receive licensing or subsidies from the ministry.

"I thought I was allowed to have such meetings with politicians. I was naive in my awareness," Todani told reporters on Sept. 21. He suggested he understood that the former legislator paid the bills. The ministry's report, however, stopped short of identifying who paid the bill and did not elaborate on the relationship between Todani and the former company executive.

The fact-finding team, headed by State Minister for Education Toshiei Mizuochi and comprising lawyers and other experts, asked 268 officials at the level of division director and above whether they had dined with the former executive of the consulting firm, who has been indicted on bribery and other charges.

Todani was punished because he received an excessive amount of entertainment in light of social norms and failed to fulfill his responsibility to oversee two officials who were indicted over the corruption. Regardless, some say the executive could be regarded as an interested party in a broad sense, as he had repeatedly entertained ministry bureaucrats in a bid to enter the market for foreign language education.

The fact-finding team concluded that the former executive additionally paid the bills for Yoshimoto and Kakita but reached the conclusion that the two bureaucrats and the former executive were not "interested parties" because the bureaucrats were not in a position to regulate business activities the executive was promoting.

On the other hand, the panel recognized that the former consulting company executive and Takahashi, who was deputy commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency when he was wined and dined, were interested parties as a general incorporated association where the former executive served as an auditor received 3.9 million yen worth of contracts from the agency.

Nevertheless, the team did not judge whether Takahashi was wined and dined in return for doing the organization any favors. It also remains unclear whether the association won the contract from the agency in return for the entertainment.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department, and Yui Shuzo, Science & Environment News Department)

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