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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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: Sales Executive - £40,000 - £70,000 OTE

£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: (Senior) IT Business Analyst - London - European projects

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Project Manager

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer - Java

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning digital publishing solution...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness