Former NHK producer arrested in fraud case

A former NHK TV producer and an event planning company president were arrested Saturday on suspicion of swindling 2.7 million yen out of the public broadcaster.

Katsumi Isono, 48, allegedly provided a total of about 48 million yen to the company run by his acquaintance, Hisayuki Uehara, 48, for nonexistent work from 1997 through 2001 and then taking kickbacks from the agency, according to NHK.

The arrest warrant concerns only a portion of NHK’s allegations against Isono, and the Metropolitan Police Department plans to look deeper into the case and come up with evidence of further wrongdoing, MPD sources said.

The police suspect that Isono, while in charge of an NHK program about a children’s singing contest in 2001, paid 2.7 million yen out of the broadcaster’s coffers to Uehara.

Isono made it look like the payment was a reward for writing the script for the program, but Uehara’s company in fact did no such job for NHK, according to the sources.

While illicitly channeling money to the event agency on this and other occasions, Isono is believed to have received a total of roughly 9.4 million yen in kickbacks, according to NHK estimates.

NHK separately charges that Isono, while head of the annual yearend “Kohaku Utagassen” music program from 1997 to 2001, similarly obtained roughly 6 million yen from the broadcaster by disguising the money as a script-writing fee.

Isono was a veteran producer primarily in charge of music programs after joining the broadcaster in 1980. NHK earlier quoted Isono as saying he used the money to cover his expenses for wining and dining people in the music industry.

Isono was fired by NHK in late July when the case came to light, and the broadcaster imposed pay cuts on its chairman, Katsuji Ebisawa, and other executives for their supervisory responsibility.

In September, a Diet committee summoned Ebisawa to testify on the case as an unsworn witness. During his appearance, he apologized for NHK losing the viewers’ trust.

Upon Saturday arrests, Ebisawa released a statement in which he said, “We again offer a profound apology to our viewers and the Japanese people.

“I and other NHK staffers are determined to prevent a recurrence of an incident of this sort,” he added.

NHK has received hundreds of complaints via e-mail and phone calls from viewers since the scandal became public earlier this year.

The scandal, along with some other financial irregularities involving its employees, has prompted an increasing number of people to refuse to pay viewing fees for the public broadcaster.

According to NHK, the number of people who withheld payment citing the financial scandal increased from roughly 31,000 at the end of September to 113,000 at the end of November, with the total amount of uncollected fees reaching 1 billion yen.