Scandal engulfs Tokyo tycoon: Bribe charge laid against Impressionist collector who wanted to be cremated with his masterpieces

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A JAPANESE tycoon who once spent billions of yen on Impressionist paintings which he threatened to have cremated with him was arrested yesterday for allegedly bribing a local government official in Japan's latest corruption scandal.

Ryoei Saito, honorary chairman of Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Company, was accused of paying pounds 625,000 to the former governor of Miyagi prefecture for planning permission favours.

His arrest followed an investigation into corrupt dealings between building contractors, local government officials and bureaucrats. More than 20 executives from six big construction companies, along with two prefectural governors and two city mayors have already been arrested. The arrests have brought into the open what many had long suspected: that bribes are commonly used to circumvent building restrictions, public tender requirements and other official regulations governing the construction industry.

Mr Saito, who used to fly to art auctions and pay enormous sums for his favourite Van Goghs, Renoirs and Chagalls, came to personify the greed and arrogance of the 'bubble-economy era' in the late 1980s, when Japan was awash in speculative money.

Art-lovers were outraged when he said he wanted to be cremated with a Van Gogh and a Renoir that had cost dollars 160m ( pounds 111m), and he had to retract his statement, claiming it was a joke.

Japanese television yesterday replayed 1990 footage of Mr Saito blithely declaring that the dollars 82.5m he had paid for Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet was 'not a large sum at all. It was not a big shopping trip'. Two days later he spent dollars 78.1m on Renoir's Au Moulin de la Galette.

But yesterday he had fallen very low indeed. Looking tired and shorn of his dignity and his tie, he was bustled into a prosecutor's car for a trip which may end in jail. Television commentators could barely restrain themselves from gloating, and the air was heavy with a sense of retribution for past hubris.

The 77-year-old has been charged with bribing the Miyagi governor to lift zoning restrictions so that he could build a golf course and housing project on land that should have remained undeveloped. After allegedly receiving the pounds 625,000 from Mr Saito, the governor gave permission for the developments as 'special cases'.