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Editorial: Ex-farm minister's cozy ties with industry must be exposed in bribery trial

Former Japanese farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa has been indicted without arrest on a charge of receiving bribes. He is specifically accused of having received 5 million yen (about $48,000) in cash from Yoshiki Akita, the former head of the Akita Foods Co. group, a major egg producer in Hiroshima Prefecture, while serving as minister.

    Yoshikawa has maintained he did not regard the payments as bribes. But the very fact that a minister received cash from a related industry figure is beyond the pale. A portion of the money is even said to have been handed over in the minister's office.

    According to the indictment, Akita, a major poultry industry figure, requested that Yoshikawa oppose proposed international standards on raising farm animals in stress-free environments on behalf of the Japanese government, and that Yoshikawa received a bribe in return.

    Yoshikawa is also said to have been asked for favorable treatment for small- and medium-sized poultry businesses seeking loans from government-run financial institutions.

    The ex-minister is separately suspected of having received a total of 13 million yen (about $125,000) from Akita over five years, but prosecutors did not form a case over this money because he was not in a position of authority at the time.

    It is possible that the cozy relationship that continued for many years through the provision of cash distorted administration of the farm industry. The full details must be brought to light in a public trial.

    While the investigation was underway, Yoshikawa resigned as a member of the House of Representatives. He released a statement after being indicted without arrest, but it did not provide any details relating to the bribery case. He should quickly explain the facts.

    The special investigative unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office handling the case apparently refrained from arresting the former minister because they judged there was a low chance of him fleeing -- due to the fact he had undergone heart surgery. It is rare for a politician to avoid arrest in a bribery case.

    During investigations into Yoshikawa's actions, it emerged that Koya Nishikawa, another former minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, had similarly received cash from the ex-head of Akita Foods, and speculation has arisen that cash was also provided to multiple Diet members.

    It is apparent inappropriate relationships existed between the poultry industry and politicians with connections to the farming and marine product industries. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries needs to examine whether policy decisions were affected because of this, and the Diet should pursue the truth of the matter.

    Under the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife Anri Kawai, a member of the House of Councillors, as well as former State Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Tsukasa Akimoto, were arrested and indicted. The fact that yet another politician who served in a Cabinet post has faced criminal responsibility is probably a reflection of the arrogance and slackness of the long-running administration of the current ruling party.

    Trust in Japan's politics is wavering amid the coronavirus crisis. The government and ruling coalition must squarely face the "politics and money" problem.

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