Third `bribe' suicide

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The Independent Online
Shokei Arai gave a big clue at the press conference on Wednesday night. "I feel like a drowning man holding on to a straw," he told reporters, after denying the charges against him. "I may not be able to talk to you again ..."

Mr Arai, a 50-year-old member of the Japanese Diet, was later found to have hanged himself in a hotel room.

The news nudged even the results from the Nagano Winter Olympics into second place. For, apart from its shock value, it confirms to the country's most powerful elite institutions that, after decades of turning a blind eye, the Japanese justice system is cracking down on corruption.

Though a Korean by birth, Mr Arai was a model Japanese politician: he attended Tokyo University, worked for the prestigious Ministry of Finance, and was elected as candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It was his previous career as a finance bureaucrat that apparently led to his downfall.

The prosecutors say Mr Arai accepted 29 million yen in illegal profits from the brokerage firm Nikko Securities - effectively a $230,000 bribe. His is the third such suicide; an MOF inspector hanged himself after revelations that colleagues had accepted trips to girlie bars in return for advance warning of inspections. The president of a company embroiled in a ministerial bribery scandal did the same two days later.

The gossip in Nagatacho, Japan's equivalent of Westminster, is that Mr Arai was no more than a fall guy, and that the big fish are still swimming free.