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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Administrator

£8000 - £10800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Supply Chain Administrator is ...

Recruitment Genius: Client IT Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client IT Account Manager is ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor