ANA feud takes new twist: Wakasa to resign from board

Tokuji Wakasa, the powerful and controversial 82-year-old honorary chairman of All Nippon Airways, will resign as a board member next month in an apparent move to take responsibility for a recent feud that shook the firm’s top management.

“Our honorary chairman expressed his intention to resign from the board at the end of this term,” Yuzuru Masumoto, Senior Vice President of ANA said May 22 at a hastily arranged press conference. Masumoto declined to comment on Wakasa’s role after the resignation, including whether he will keep the title of honorary chairman. He also refused to clarify the reason behind Wakasa’s resignation.

Transport Minister Makoto Koga welcomed the decision after being informed by Takaya Sugiura, 71, ANA’s chairman. “I respect the decision of the honorary chairman,” Koga said. “I believe that he considered the current circumstances, inside and outside the company, and reached the decision.”

Wakasa, a former vice-minister at the Transport Ministry, has been the focus of media attention since May 10 when infighting among ANA’s top management boiled over. Acting in advance of next month’s shareholders’ meeting, Seiji Fukatsu, 64, president of the firm, reportedly had proposed a new executive line-up that drew opposition from some board members. Wakasa and Takaya Sugiura then fed the fire by pushing an alternative. At that point, it is believed that Fukatsu tried in vain to oust board members close to Wakasa.

After the dispute surfaced, Fukatsu said he will step down at the end of the current term, which expires next month. ANA announced later that Kenzo Yoshikawa, 60, the current president of ANA Real Estate Co., will replace Fukatsu after formal approval is given at a shareholders’ meeting.

Fukatsu later said he decided to resign because it had become impossible to fulfill his duties as president without having authority over management and personnel matters. While Fukatsu has spent his entire career at ANA, Wakasa and Sugiura joined the firm after serving as vice-ministers at the Transport Ministry, in a practice known as “amakudari” (“descent from heaven”).

Wakasa, who used to be called the “king of Japan’s airline industry,” still retains strong influence over the government’s aviation policies, according to industry sources. After retiring as vice minister in 1967, Wakasa became president of ANA. As head of the firm, he was implicated in the 1976 Lockheed bribery scandal and was found guilty of creating a secret fund and of perjury. In 1992, the Supreme Court finalized his three-year prison term, suspended for five years.