Japan's 'Don' set to ensnare political allies

JAPAN'S arch political fixer, Shin Kanemaru, is to go on trial today and, like Al Capone before him, the charge is the apparently trifling one of income tax evasion. But in Mr Kanemaru's case the unpaid tax amounts to pounds 6m, according to prosecutors, and it could ensnare an unknown number of other politicians just as Japan's political system has enough problems.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was so scared of what might come out in Mr Kanemaru's trial that it deliberately scheduled the elections to be held last Sunday, four days before the trial, even though it meant pre-election campaigning clashed with the Tokyo G7 summit.

The court case will be followed with rapt attention in Nagatacho, Tokyo's political district, as the LDP, of which Mr Kanemaru, 78, was a prominent member, struggles to find a successor to the unpopular Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa. Mr Miyazawa is expected to announce his resignation today, and there is a battle royal within the party over his successor. The last thing a potential prime minister wants is to be named in Mr Kanemaru's trial.

But, given Mr Kanemaru's former position as the godfather of the party, and his inside knowledge of the delicate art of political fundraising, he probably has enough information to put the entire party behind bars for many years if he were to 'squeal'. For years Mr Kanemaru was the head of the construction zoku - the group of politicians who represent the construction industry's interests in parliament, and are rewarded handsomely for doing so. Construction firms are known to pay more political bribes than any other industry, largely because of their reliance on big public works projects.

And if this all sounds more like a gangster thriller than a political story, then it will come as no surprise to know that Mr Kanemaru, a judo black belt, was known informally as 'The Don' during his political career.

There is a nice symmetry in the Kanemaru case. For many, Mr Kanemaru is the epitome of the system of money politics that had reduced Japan's democracy to a nationwide payola scheme, and his arrest last March for income tax evasion is regarded as poetic justice. Politicians campaigning for the elections last Sunday repeatedly said there must be reform of the old ways.

But Mr Kanemaru was the first man who thought of fundamentally reforming politics by setting up a real opposition party to the LDP - an idea that has now been realised by his erstwhile lieutenant, Ichiro Ozawa, in the form of the Shinsei (Renewal) party. The Shinsei party won 55 seats in the elections.

Mr Kanemaru's lawyers have made no comment on the trial, but reports say he will try to defend himself by claiming the money on which no tax was paid - and which was found in the form of cash, gold bars and anonymous bank debentures in his house and office - was intended as seed money for a new political party, and not for his personal use.

A number of commentators have suggested that the reason Mr Kanemaru is in court in the first place is that influential LDP politicians wanted to hijack the Don's plan to split the party and set up a new challenger for power, and so leaked damaging information to the public prosecutors. Politicians everywhere know how to fight dirty when their power base is threatened, and these days the threat to many Japanese politicians is particularly serious.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
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: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links