Prosecutors arrested a former top Japanese defense bureaucrat and his wife yesterday on suspicion they accepted lavish gifts from companies - including one linked to General Electric - in exchange for contracts, officials said.
The bribery scandal - in which the current finance minister who twice served as defense minister is also implicated - threatens to further weaken the two-month-old government of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Former Vice-Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya, 63, was arrested on suspicion he accepted a dozen free golf trips worth about 3.9 million yen ($35,850) from 2003 to 2006, knowing that favors were expected in return, the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.
He was detained after hours of questioning at the prosecutor's office, and media reports said investigators also raided his home to search for more evidence. Moriya's wife, Sachiko, 56, was also arrested on suspicion of bribery in connection with five free golf games and other hospitality, the prosecutor's statement said.
Moriya faces allegations that he gave favorable treatment in granting contracts to two defense trading companies led by Motonobu Miyazaki, who was charged yesterday with embezzlement in a related scandal. Prosecutors said Miyazaki was also being investigated for alleged bribery.
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 company, Nihon Mirise Corp, also gave Moriya 200,000 yen ($1,845) in cash as a birthday gift, according to several local media reports. Moriya, who served as the ministry's No 2 official for four years, argued during recent parliamentary testimony that they were gifts, not bribery.
"The arrest of someone who held such a serious post has damaged public trust in the country's defense. It is extremely regrettable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.
Moriya is suspected of influencing the ministry's 2004-05 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 600 million yen ($5.52 million) GE engine at the time, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said.
Prosecutors have three weeks to complete their investigation and decide which, if any, charges to level against the suspects.
Source: China Daily/Agencies