Fri, Nov 16, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Former Japanese defense chiefs caught in scandal

CORRUPTION The allegations, which could involve other officials, risk making it more difficult for the prime minister to enact a new bill on a stalled naval mission

AGENCIES , TOKYO

Two of Japan's former defense chiefs, including one who is now finance minister, were accused yesterday of dining with a military contractor in a corruption scandal that has rocked political circles.

A recently retired top bureaucrat of the defense ministry, Takemasa Moriya, has triggered a storm by saying former defense chiefs Fumio Kyuma and Fukushiro Nukaga joined him at dinners with the contractor.

Summoned to parliament yesterday to give sworn testimony, Moriya admitted the contractor also treated him to fine dining, gifts and more than 200 golf trips.

"I think those people were Mr Kyuma and Mr Nukaga," Moriya said when asked by an opposition lawmaker who joined him at an unspecified number of dinners with the Yamada Corp executive.

Nukaga served as head of the Defense Agency from 2005 to last year and was named finance minister when Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda took over in September.

Kyuma was Nukaga's successor as defense chief and was serving earlier this year when officially pacifist Japan upgraded the job to that of a fully fledged defense minister for the first time since World War II.

The widening scandal is likely to further complicate Fukuda's efforts to restart Japan's naval mission in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan -- stalled by opposition parties in control of parliament's upper house.

The opposition, which won control of one house of parliament in July elections, has seized on the scandal, earlier saying it was a higher priority than discussing a resumption of Japan's support for the US-led "war on terror."

The opposition forced a suspension this month of Japan's naval mission offering fuel and logistical support in the Indian Ocean to US-led forces in Afghanistan.

"It appears that the contractor approached various politicians, not just Moriya," said Yasunori Sone, a political science professor at Keio University in Tokyo.

"If Nukaga had to quit, that would damage Fukuda and make it even harder to enact the new bill enabling the naval mission," he said, adding there was speculation the scandal might widen beyond just Nukaga.

Moriya has denied giving any favors in exchange for the gifts, but said he would accept punishment if he is charged and convicted.

"If it is deemed that this merits criminal punishment, I have no intention of walking away from it," he said.

It could also damage the image of Fukuda's government as the Japanese leader struggles to implement policies in the face of the divided parliament, analysts said.

Media reports have said Nukaga, who has quit Cabinet posts twice in the past over scandals, received cash from the contractor.

Nukaga has said that he returned the cash and he has denied having any special ties to the firm.

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