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Calls mount for Kansai Electric's transparency and new management

This Oct. 9, 2019 photo shows the headquarters of Kansai Electric Power Co. in Osaka. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Following a scandal in which Kansai Electric Power Co. executives received gifts from a former official of a central Japan town hosting one of its nuclear power plants, calls from local people to the political class including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have mounted for the company to reveal the full extent of the graft.

Even as the company's board endorsed Wednesday resignations by Chairman Makoto Yagi and Vice President Ikuo Morinaka, many are dissatisfied, saying the company must take greater responsibility including a complete reshuffle of its management team.

President Shigeki Iwane said he will step down the same day a third-party panel releases results of an investigation into the gift scandal.

Twenty people including Yagi, 69, and Iwane, 66, at Kansai Electric received a total of 318.45 million yen ($2.9 million) worth of gifts from Eiji Moriyama, the late deputy mayor of Takahama town in Fukui Prefecture.

The Takahama town government said it will set up an investigation committee by the end of this month to question former town officials who knew Moriyama from the late 1970s to early 1980s.

It will look into the level of Moriyama's influence inside the town hall and whether other gifts had been accepted.

"I thought that (Yagi) would resign sooner or later," Chiaki Kodama, 30, a town assembly member who supports investigating the matter.

"It is natural for (Yagi) to resign. Other senior officials should also take responsibility," said a local male manager of a restaurant in his 40s.

The Osaka city government, Kansai Electric's largest shareholder, agrees.

"It is not just one chairman's responsibility," said Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, calling for a sweeping management reshuffle.

The scandal has even led Prime Minister Abe to say later Wednesday it is "crucial for the full story to be completely clarified by having a third party look into it."

But the Liberal Democratic Party to which he belongs is pushing back against opposition members' suggestion to question Yagi and six other related officials at parliament.

"We want them to explain clearly. They may have profited from the public utilities' charges and our taxes," said Kazuhiro Haraguchi from the Democratic Party for the People.

As the fall-out from the scandal continues, safety work under government regulations continues at two nuclear reactors in Takahama as the plant is idled in preparation for its reboot.

"This case has given rise to doubts about nuclear plants' safety," said Yukihiro Higashiyama, a representative of a civic organization against the restart of Takahama's nuclear power plant. "I request it to be decommissioned."

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