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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick