Fukui may have made millions off Murakami investment

by Tetsushi Kajimoto

Bank of Japan Gov. Toshihiko Fukui revealed Friday he may have earned several million yen a year from his investment in a fund set up by now-arrested financier Yoshiaki Murakami.

Speaking before the Diet, the BOJ chief repeatedly declined to provide details about the investments, promising to submit relevant information to the Financial Affairs Committee by Tuesday — two days after the current Diet session adjourns.

Fukui again refused to step down, saying he will fulfill his duty by steering BOJ policy properly, while taking the harsh criticism he has received to heart.

Fukui’s latest revelation may create consternation among bank depositors who have suffered through years of rock-bottom interest rates as a result of the central bank’s ultraloose monetary policy, while stock market investors have done very well in recent months, partially for the same reason.

Fukui has been on the hot seat since he told the Diet Tuesday he had 10 million yen invested in the Murakami fund.

On Friday, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Financial Services Minister Kaoru Yosano said the BOJ should review its regulations to improve transparency about BOJ executives’ assets, citing such rules in the U.S. and other Western countries.

After appearing before the House of Councilors Budget Committee on Thursday, Fukui was summoned Friday morning to the House of Representatives Financial Affairs Committee to explain his 1999 investment in the Murakami fund, which has reportedly yielded overall annual returns of 20 percent to 30 percent.

Murakami was arrested June 5 on suspicion of insider trading over the fund’s purchases of Nippon Broadcasting Corp. shares.

When asked by Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Shinichiro Furumoto how much he had made from his investment in the fund, Fukui said it yielded profits of between several hundred thousand and several million yen.

He said the profits have not been realized because the investments were never cashed out, but were reinvested in the fund after taxes were paid.

The final returns on the investment won’t be settled until the end of June, although Fukui abruptly pulled his money out in January — after the arrest of Livedoor Corp. founder Takafumi Horie, which in turn led to the arrest of Murakami — and shortly before the BOJ lifted its quantitative easing policy on March 9.

Despite the policy shift, and the appearance of a potential conflict of interest on Fukui’s part, interest rates never rose during the five-year quantitative easing policy, and have barely budged since it ended. The Lower House committee session was interrupted repeatedly by angry outbursts when the BOJ chief refused to provide more information about his investment. Fukui finally agreed to submit such details as how much he made annually since 2001 and the balance of his investments at the end of 2005.

Fukui also said the BOJ will work to make its executives’ assets more transparent.