Career farm bureaucrat indicted in bribery case

Prosecutors indicted an elite bureaucrat from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and two former officials of an agricultural cooperative in Kagawa Prefecture on Friday on suspicion of accepting bribes.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted Kinya Mizokami, 44; Yoshinobu Hirose, 70, a former head of the Shikoku Okawa co-op; and Taishi Yamashita, 56, a former co-op senior official.

Prosecutors allege Hirose and Yamashita wined and dined Mizokami between 1997 and 1999 while he was assigned to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government in return for the official’s earlier aid in obtaining government subsidies for the co-op.

Mizokami is suspected of spending 1.9 million yen of co-op funds during more than 20 visits to bars in Tokyo and Sapporo between July 1997 and October 1999.

The bureaucrat met Hirose and Yamashita in the early 1980s when he was assigned to Nagao, a town neighboring Sangawa, Kanagawa Prefecture.

He was working in the administration division of the ministry’s Agricultural Production Bureau when he allegedly extended favors to the co-op in connection with the co-op’s construction of a grain facility in Okawa in the prefecture, investigators said.

The co-op received about 148 million yen in subsidies to build the facility, which was planned in 1996 and completed in 1998, they said. Police also suspect Mizokami of spending more than 900,000 yen of co-op money on a dozen other visits to bars.

Mizokami is the first “career track” official in the farm ministry to be indicted in a criminal case, according to the ministry. Career officials hold administrative jobs in the central government bureaucracy and are placed on a “fast track” for promotions.

Tsuguo Joko, a former farm ministry bureaucrat who was not a career official, was earlier indicted on charges of receiving 500,000 yen in bribes in 1997 from the Shikoku Okawa co-op in exchange for assistance from a government project to promote farm products.

In a recent interview with Kyodo News, Vice Agriculture Minister Yuki Takagi said there were no irregularities in the granting of subsidies to the Shikoku Okawa co-op.

“I have received no reports of irregularities in the procedure (of allocating subsidies). The media says the co-op gave Mizokami dubious money but I believe the subsidies to the co-op would have gone ahead (with or without the bribes),” Takagi said.

Takagi said Mizokami’s actions were a personal issue, brushing aside the possibility of a structural problem in the way the ministry deals with local farm co-ops.

He did not confirm whether the ministry would punish other ministry bureaucrats who have been questioned by the Metropolitan Police Department on allegations they have been entertained by farm co-ops, only saying that the ministry will wait for MPD investigation results.

Asked if Takagi himself had ever been wined and dined by the agriculture sector, the top ministry bureaucrat said, “I would not say I never (experienced it) if informal parties are included, but not since I assumed a managerial position (at the ministry).”