Japanese MPs dive for cover behind 'fall-guy': Terry McCarthy reports on politicians' attempts to avoid being the only ones caught in the latest bribery scandal while others evade suspicion

JAPANESE politicians cannot wash their hands quickly enough of the bribery scandal involving the Sagawa Kyubin trucking company. The Sagawa affair has already cost the resignations of Shin Kanemaru, the most powerful politician within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Kiyoshi Kaneko, the influential governor of Niigata prefecture in western Japan.

But public prosecutors believe more than 100 politicians, including at least two serving cabinet ministers and three former prime ministers, received bribes from Sagawa that may add up to pounds 160m. At the same time, embarrassing stories of huge flows of funds to one of Japan's largest yakuza, or gangster, syndicates are emerging. The effect has been that of an air-raid siren on the political world, with LDP and opposition members desperately diving for cover.

Yesterday 17 cabinet members were questioned about their involvement with the Sagawa company when they attended a session of the House of Councillors' Audit Committee. Like schoolboys summoned before the headmaster to discover who had let the air out of the teachers' tyres, they all sheepishly denied having accepted any money from Sagawa. Many, however, seemed to be suffering from amnesia about their relations with the trucking firm.

Michio Watanabe, the Foreign Minister, admitted that the top executives of the Sagawa company were 'acquaintances', and said he might have received an invitation to one of their parties some time ago. Koichi Kato, the chief cabinet secretary, said: 'There were no donations, but I met Mr Sagawa last year - or maybe a year before that.'

If it were not for the amount of money involved, the Sagawa affair would be quite a comedy. But public prosecutors believe that, on top of the political 'donations', the trucking company was also involved in some pounds 2bn of shady loans, with possibly one-fifth going to fund yakuza enterprises.

But despite the seriousness of the allegations, the Japanese electorate has shown little anger or even surprise at the way their politicians seem to walk around with a permanent 'For Sale' sign on their backs.

So pervasive is Japan's system of money politics that businessmen, local councillors and a whole gamut of officials and special-interest groups are all enmeshed in mutually beneficial financial back-scratching. An ordinary politician would expect to spend pounds 500,000 a year on presents and other sweeteners for his constituents and supporters, a sum that could treble or quadruple for cabinet ministers.

And despite press reports that the Sagawa scandal is 'rocking' Japan's political world, in fact there is little likelihood that much will change, just as little changed after the Lockheed bribery scandal in the 1970s or the Recruit scandal in the 1980s. Many of those tainted in the Recruit scandal - after which the LDP vowed to purge itself of 'money politics' - are again suspected of taking money from Sagawa. The scramble for shelter is largely motivated by the fear of each politician of being left out in the open to take the rap for the rest who get away.

At the moment, the most likely candidate for symbolic fall-guy appears to be Mr Kaneko. The province is home to both the former prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka, who was at the centre of the Lockheed scandal, and Kiyoshi Sagawa, the founding chairman of the firm that bears his name. Mr Kaneko is now being questioned by prosecutors on suspicion of having received 300m yen ( pounds 1.2m) in illegal political donations.

The prosecutors want to charge Mr Kaneko with violating the Political Fund Control Law. If they do, he will be the first politician indicted under the law since 1954.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine