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Kansai Electric third-party panel using digital forensics to recover deleted data

Keiichi Tadaki, a former prosecutor general chairing the third-party panel investigating the issue of Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) officials receiving improper gifts gives a press conference in Osaka's Fukushima Ward on Oct. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)
Then Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) chairman Makoto Yagi and KEPCO President Shigeki Iwane bow their heads at the outset of a press conference on Oct. 9, 2019, in Osaka's Fukushima Ward. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

OSAKA -- A third-party committee at Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) is using digital forensics to recover and analyze information that had been deleted from employees' work computers and other electronic equipment, it has been revealed.

The panel is investigating a scandal in which its senior executives are believed to have received massive amounts of gifts and cash from a late former deputy mayor of Takahama, a town in Fukui Prefecture hosting one of KEPCO's nuclear power plants. In a bid to get to the bottom of the scandal, it is believed the committee will try to retrieve records that will explain why the gifts were given to the company executives, why the issue was not disclosed for at least a year, and whether there were any improper favors made in return for the gifts.

According to those connected to KEPCO, the third-party panel commissioned the digital forensic process to an auditing firm well versed in the technology. The committee requested that KEPCO employees do not delete emails or other documents from their work computers. It will be restoring already deleted emails, and thoroughly checking whether there is any information related to the gifts.

Digital forensic technology was used in 2016 by a third-party panel at IT giant DeNA when a large number of articles with questionable accuracy were posted on a medical information website run by DeNA. With the technology, it was possible to recover company employees' business chats and files saved on the internet, and in the end the panel collected approximately 5.2 million pieces of data.

The technology is not only used when probing corporate irregularities but is also often used by investigative agencies. When the scandal over doctored official documents regarding the sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen emerged, the special investigative unit of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office is said to have used digital forensics to retrieve documents prior to when they were doctored.

In late October, KEPCO's third-party committee asked the company's 20,000 employees to report any cases in which they received any money or goods worth 10,000 yen or more from stakeholders. The panel is also conducting interviews of KEPCO executives and former employees. By putting together the information they receive from people with information they retrieve through digital forensics, the committee aims to shed light on what happened.

The former deputy mayor of Takahama and others gave KEPCO executives the equivalent of around 320 million yen in money and gifts. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the former deputy mayor had received some 300 million yen as "commission fees" from Yoshida Kaihatsu, a Takahama-based construction company that had accepted orders for nuclear power plant-related construction projects from KEPCO in the past. There are suspicions that large sums of money meant for safety construction measures were funneled back to KEPCO, and this has become a focal point for the third-party panel probe.

(Japanese original by Yuhi Sugiyama, Osaka City News Department)

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