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Kansai Electric third-party probe into gift scandal likely to last till next year

Keiichi Tadaki, chairman of a Kansai Electric Power Co. third-party panel, speaks at a news conference in Osaka's Fukushima Ward on Oct. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

OSAKA -- A Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) third-party panel will unlikely complete by the end of this year an investigation into executives' acceptance of massive amounts of cash and gifts from a former top official of a town hosting one of the utility's nuclear plants, those linked to the utility said.

Although KEPCO had asked the committee to aim to compile a report on its probe by late December, the panel has apparently deemed that its investigation will inevitably be prolonged because the scope of those to be covered by the investigation is likely to expand.

It has come to light that KEPCO executives received cash and gifts from the late Eiji Moriyama, former deputy mayor of the Fukui Prefecture town of Takahama, western Japan, as early as the 1980s. Individuals targeted in the investigation will include a significant number of current and former KEPCO employees and others linked to the utility as well as officials of nuclear power-related businesses, including Takahama-based construction firm Yoshida Kaihatsu where Moriyama served as an adviser.

The panel held its first meeting on Oct. 13 and is expected to launch full-scale questioning of those targeted in its investigation in November.

Committee Chairman Keiichi Tadaki, a former prosecutor general, has suggested that the panel cannot complete its probe by the end of this year. "We can't end our investigation without getting to the bottom of the case. We can't promise (to meet the deadline)," he told a news conference on Oct. 9.

A report compiled by a separate TEPCO in-house fact-finding committee in September 2018 states that the panel had confirmed that 20 executives received a total of some 320 million yen worth of cash and gifts from Moriyama from 2006 to 2018.

A tax inspection that the Kanazawa Regional Taxation Bureau conducted has found that Yoshida Kaihatsu paid Moriyama approximately 300 million yen in commissions for construction contracts. This has raised the possibility that some of the construction fees that KEPCO paid to Yoshida Kaihatsu were funneled to executives of the utility via Moriyama.

Since KEPCO provided information on its construction projects to Moriyama, the third-party panel will likely focus on whether the cash and gifts were given to executives at the power company in return for such information.

However, Moriyama has already passed away, and it remains to be seen whether nuclear power-related companies will agree to be interviewed by the panel.

In the meantime, KEPCO President Shigeki Iwane canceled a news conference scheduled for Oct. 28 due to health issues.

He complained of a throat issue, dizziness and other problems and went to a hospital, but managed to chair a board meeting before he was to hold the news conference, according to the utility's public relations division.

(Japanese original by Yuhi Sugiyama and Toshiki Miyazaki, Osaka Business News Department)

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