Japanese prosecutors searched the Defense Ministry yesterday over a damaging bribery scandal, deepening a crackdown that has already triggered the arrest of a former top ministry bureaucrat.
Public broadcaster NHK showed investigators streaming into the ministry offices to search for evidence in the scandal, which centers on allegations that defense officials were bribed by contractors, including one linked to General Electric.
A ministry official confirmed the raid on condition of anonymity, citing policy. The official refused to disclose details of the search.
Former vice defense minister Takemasa Moriya, 63, was arrested on Wednesday in the scandal, which has paralyzed the two-month-old government of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
"I think this is an extremely unfortunate and serious situation," Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said. "We will review everything thoroughly once more."
The opposition, which took control of the upper house in July elections, has used the scandal to slow progress on Fukuda-backed legislation to renew the country's naval anti-terrorism mission in the Indian Ocean.
Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga, who twice served as defense minister, has also been implicated in the scandal. Both he and Moriya have denied accepting bribes.
Moriya faces allegations that he gave favorable treatment in granting contracts to two defense trading companies led by Motonobu Miyazaki, who was charged Wednesday with embezzlement in a related scandal.
Prosecutors said Miyazaki was also being investigated for alleged bribery.
Moriya is suspected of accepting a dozen free golf trips worth about ?3.9 million (US$35,850) from 2003 to last year, knowing that favors were expected in return, the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.
Moriya's wife, Sachiko, was also arrested on suspicion of bribery in connection with five free golf games and other hospitality, the prosecutor's statement said.
Moriya, who retired in August, has acknowledged that Miyazaki, a former executive of Yamada Yoko Corp, treated him and his wife hundreds of times to golf trips, expensive dinners and other gifts in the past decade.
Miyazaki, who later left Yamada Yoko and founded his own firm, Nihon Mirise Corp, also gave Moriya ?200,000 in cash as a birthday gift, local media reports say.
Moriya, who served as the ministry's No. 2 official for four years, argued during recent parliamentary testimony that they were gifts, not bribery.
Moriya is suspected of influencing the ministry's purchase of five General Electric Co C-X engines for next-generation Japanese cargo aircraft, media reports said.
The deal was handled -- without bids -- by Yamada Yoko, which was a Japanese agent for the GE engine at the time, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said.