Akimoto Out of Detention, But Many Unanswered Questions Remain

As with most of the other major political scandals in the Shinzo Abe era, the final chapter does not seem to conclude with an unraveling of the mysteries, with lessons learned, and then the beginning of reforms, but rather with the investigations grinding to a halt before they reveal the full truth, with logical progressions left hanging, and with the government carrying on as if nothing were amiss.

At present, no one is behind bars, and some investigations have gone dark.

Four men spent more than a month in detention—former Senior Vice-Minister of the Cabinet Office Tsukasa Akimoto, 500 Dot Com executive Zheng Xi, and two 500 Dot Com advisers, Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato—all of whom were indicted on various charges. They have now all been released on bail. Two others, Akimoto’s former policy secretary Akihiro Toyoshima and Kamori Kanko Chairman Kimihito Kamori, were indicted without arrest. These six will be facing court proceedings.

Among the mysteries, however, is why no charges have been laid against the other five lawmakers that apparently accepted bribes—Takeshi Iwaya, Toshimitsu Funahashi, Hiroyuki Nakamura, and Masahisa Miyazaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party; as well as Mikio Shimoji, formerly of the Osaka-based Japan Innovation Party.

In early January it was reported that Nakazato had told prosecutors that he personally delivered 1 million yen (US$9,200) bribes to each of the five in late September 2017, and apparently there were electronic records verifying his testimony. Indeed, Shimoji and Funahashi even admitted receiving the money, though they provided various excuses as to why they didn’t consider them to be bribes. Shimoji was, as a result, tossed out of the Osaka-based Japan Innovation Party.

But since this damning information came to public light in early January, what happened next was… nothing. Prosecutors made no arrests of the five lawmakers and no charges have been laid. That was over a month ago.

Like other recent scandals—for example Nobuhisa Sagawa of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal or twenty senior executives of the Kansai Electric Power Company’s Takahama Nuclear Power Plant bribery scandal—it seems that even when the culprit is forced to publicly admit that they engaged in criminal action, the prosecutors often decide not to move.

In each of these cases it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Japanese prosecutors often operate as the political servants of the Abe government. When the word comes down that they should drop a case, they drop it.

The recent issue of the Abe Cabinet’s illegal decision to suspend the mandatory retirement of senior prosecutor Hiromu Kurokawa is suggestive of how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga might exercise this control: prosecutors who do them favors can expect payoffs in terms of promotion and career advancement.

In May 2014, the Abe government established the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs centralizing power in their own hands and giving themselves authority in appointing about six hundred top officials across the government, whereas previously various ministries and agencies made their own decisions about promotion.

Critics contend that many senior bureaucrats who once aimed to serve the state in a nonpartisan fashion have thus been transformed through this particular “reform” into eager servants of the chief cabinet secretary, who now holds the ultimate power over the top positions they will achieve in their bureaucratic careers.

In that context, it could very well be that the Tokyo prosecutors arrested Akimoto but not the other five lawmakers because, first, he was likely the most guilty of the bunch, and, second, because the prosecutors didn’t want to push their political luck by taking down six conservative lawmakers, including Takeshi Iwaya, a recent Defense Minister.

The coronavirus and other issues have already pushed the casino bribery scandal out of the top headlines, and barring major new developments, it may continue to fade from national attention.

Like the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, the Kake Gakuen scandal, the Cherry Blossom Party scandal, the KEPCO Takahama nuclear bribery scandal, and others, the Casino Bribery Scandal also seems headed for that peculiar and unsatisfying conclusion characteristic of the Abe Era—few answers, missing records, little justice, months of delay, and ultimately the political protection of the government’s friends. (AGB Nippon)