TOKYO -- Amid suspicions that Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara's office illegally gave gifts to voters in his constituency, several voters in the capital's Nerima Ward have told the Mainichi Shimbun they received melons, crabs and other luxury foods.
A copy of list of voters and others to whom Sugawara's office apparently sent gifts in the summer and winter of 2006 and 2007 has also come to light. The content of gifts, including melons, mandarin oranges, cod roe and salmon roe were written next to a total of 239 contacts.
The majority of the people were residents of Nerima Ward, which is split into the House of Representatives' Tokyo No. 9 constituency where he has been elected and the No. 10 electoral district, but the list also included the names of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and others playing a key role in the current administration.
One man on the list told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Melons and crabs were delivered to my home." He said he remembers the food arrived with a plain noshi -- a paper decoration attached to gifts. The mother of a separate person on the list stated, "We received melons two or three times but the gifts stopped coming about 10 years ago." Another man commented, "I discarded the gifts because I knew receiving such items is legally banned."
The act of giving out money or items to voters in one's constituency is forbidden under the Public Offices Election Act. But because there is a three-year statute of limitations for prosecution, law enforcers cannot build up a criminal case over the gifts given out during 2006 and 2007.
A former secretary of Sugawara, a House of Representatives member elected from the Tokyo No. 9 electoral district, told the Mainichi that they created the list at his office. Sugawara, however, told a Diet session on Oct. 15 that he "saw the list for the first time" when the opposition questioned him about it. He maintained that he "did not instruct" his secretaries to make it.
One former secretary to Sugawara told the Mainichi on Oct. 16, "There's no way that a secretary would have been able to decide what gifts to give to each person. I was instructed by Sugawara."
During a news conference Sugawara held after an Oct. 18 Cabinet meeting, Sugawara stated, "I searched for the list at my current office, but it was nowhere to be found."
He explained that his current secretary was trying to contact each household on the copy of the list that has come to light, but there are a considerable number of people who have already passed away or will not answer phone calls. He added, "Even those who have answered calls say they never received such gifts or don't remember things that happened over 10 years ago."
Some news organizations reported on the scandal in 2009. The Mainichi Shimbun submitted a question to Sugawara's office on Oct. 10, when the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine published an article about the incident, but it has not received any answers.
(Japanese original by Yujiro Futamura and Taku Soda, Political News Department)