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Alleged cash gift to ex-Japan farm minister could deal big blow to Suga gov't

Takamori Yoshikawa is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Tatsuro Tamaki)

TOKYO -- The revelation that former agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa allegedly received 5 million yen (about $48,000) from a former representative of a major egg producer has sent shockwaves throughout the government and ruling coalition, as the ex-minister is close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai.

    If a criminal case was established for the alleged cash transaction, it would deal a serious blow to the Suga administration. The government and ruling parties are focusing on the fate of the new flash point among cases being dealt with by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation unit, following other scandals rattling the administration.

    The unit is already probing a massive vote-buying case involving former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his lawmaker wife, Anri Kawai, as well as allegations over dinner functions organized by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's support group on the eve of the annual cherry blossom-viewing parties he hosted.

    Yoshikawa, 70, an LDP House of Representatives member from the Hokkaido No. 2 constituency, released a comment over the allegations on Dec. 2, stating that he was in hospital for an irregular heartbeat and that he "has to take some time to concentrate on treatment after examinations." He revealed that he told Nikai that he would resign all positions within the LDP including the post of acting chairperson of the Election Strategy Committee. The LDP headquarters and others accepted Yoshikawa's offer to give up the posts of acting chief campaign strategist and secretary-general of the Nikai faction the same day.

    Prior to the release of Yoshikawa's comment, LDP Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama told reporters, "I assume he is denying (the allegations)." However, Yoshikawa's comment did not include a word of denial about the money transaction but stated, "I will sincerely respond to authorities."

    Yoshikawa is known as one of the lawmakers who act in the interests of agricultural and forestry lobbies and has had influence on Japan's agricultural policies. He and Prime Minister Suga were first elected to the lower house in 1996. Yoshikawa was one of the lawmakers who endorsed Suga in his bid in the LDP presidential race in September, and he also acted as secretary-general for Suga's campaign office for the race. After the launch of the Suga Cabinet, Yoshikawa assumed the newly created key post of acting chief campaign strategist.

    As Yoshikawa was gaining a greater voice by capitalizing on his proximity to Suga and Nikai, the scandal could have a serious impact on the administration. If the cash transaction was confirmed to be true, it could constitute a criminal case.

    The egg producer, Akita Foods Co., has had strong ties with Japan's political circles. It was raided in July by the Tokyo prosecutor office's special investigation unit as one of the parties linked to the vote-buying scandal involving former Justice Minister Kawai and his wife. The company is also said to have had frequent interactions with those affiliated with the LDP. An individual close to the LDP says the former Akita Foods representative approached Suga when he was chief Cabinet secretary. "Depending on how the case unfolds, it could become troublesome," lamented a senior LDP official.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference on Dec. 2, "As the case is related to an investigation, I will refrain from commenting on it on behalf of the government." He added, "Politicians are called on to properly fulfill their accountability for their own actions."

    Opposition parties are demanding that Yoshikawa take accountability over the case, and are eyeing launching a team to pursue the scandal as they step up their offensive against the government. Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told a news conference on Dec. 2, "If there is criminality involved, we opposition parties will set up a team to pursue the case and start moving to get to the bottom of it during the year-end and New Year period."

    Japanese Communist Party Diet affairs chief Keiji Kokuta also emphasized during a press conference, "The case represents the culmination of the LDP's use of politics for its own gain. It will be inevitable to summon Mr. Abe to the Diet. We will dig up what happened under the (former) Abe administration."

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Kaite, Minami Nomaguchi and Kenta Miyahara, Political News Department)

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