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Yoshimoto president ordered comedians not to meet press over scandal

Japanese comedians Hiroyuki Miyasako, left, and Ryo Tamura attend a press conference in Tokyo on July 20, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The president of Japanese talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. had ordered its comedians not to hold a news conference over a scandal involving "underground business" that had led to their suspensions, two of the comedians said Saturday.

Yoshimoto Kogyo President Akihiko Okamoto told comedian Ryo Tamura last month that he "will fire all" suspended comedians if Tamura were to hold a news conference to apologize over the matter, said Hiroyuki Miyasako, whose management contract with the agency was terminated Friday.

Miyasako, 49, and Tamura, 47, jointly held a news conference Saturday, apologizing for attending a party hosted by a purported crime group in 2014 without consulting with the company.

The 11 comedians each received remuneration, including the largest 1 million yen ($9,300) for Miyasako and 500,000 yen for Tamura.

The entertainment powerhouse suspended the 11 comedians late last month after celebrity gossip magazine Friday carried an article saying they performed without the agency's consent at the party organized by a group involved in a large scam in December 2014.

Two more comedians of the agency have also been indefinitely suspended for performing and getting paid at a gathering attended by organized crime group members without its consent around three years ago.

"I apologize to fraud victims for making them feel very unpleasant and distressed," Miyasako said at the press conference.

Miyasako had conveyed to Yoshimoto his intention to retire. But on Saturday, he said, "I can't think about retiring now." He denied he had any connection with purported crime groups.

Earlier this month, Miyasako told the agency he wanted to hold a press conference by himself and that he would take full responsibility and was prepared to retire if needed, but Yoshimoto rejected the idea, he said.

A document was later delivered to them asking them to choose whether the agency should terminate their management contracts or whether they would hold a press conference to announce their retirement, they said.

The agency also instructed them to practice questions and answers prepared by the agency if the two were to hold a press conference, they said.

Miyasako refused to follow the order and his contract was terminated, he said.

Tamura, whose contract has been maintained, said he "has nothing but a sense of distrust" against the company for rejecting their news conference to convey an apology.

A Yoshimoto official said the agency "intends to respond after examining" the news conference.

Miyasako and Tamura have appeared frequently on talk and variety shows on TV, many of which feature comedians. Miyasako was also active as an actor.

The press conference capped a week of media reports that highlighted what commentators describe as outdated characteristics of the Japanese entertainment industry.

There were reports that TV stations had been possibly pressured by Johnny & Associates Inc., another of the nation's most powerful talent agencies, not to use three former members of popular boy band SMAP on their shows after they left the agency in 2017.

The agency has been warned by the Fair Trade Commission that such an act could violate the antimonopoly law, sources close to the matter have said.

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