Rural Hokkaido scandal trio’s home

Convicted bribe-taker, lawmaker tied to shady funds, alleged boozer hang hats in Tokachi

by Takahiro Fukada

The eastern Hokkaido region of Tokachi has become scandal-central.

The area has a population of only 354,000, but the three key national-level politicians who call it home have been hit by allegations of unseemly conduct.

Shoichi Nakagawa, an eight-term lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, was forced last month to resign as finance minister after appearing to be drunk at a Group of Seven news conference in Rome.

This week, another shock came when Tomohiro Ishikawa, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker and former aide to DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, was reportedly questioned by prosecutors over a fundraising scandal that has led to the arrest of Ozawa’s chief secretary.

That’s not the end of the story. Veteran lawmaker Muneo Suzuki’s two-year prison sentence for taking bribes from construction firms was upheld last year by the Tokyo High Court. He has held onto his Diet seat while he fights his conviction.

“The ‘Tokachi three’ have all been annihilated,” lamented a local LDP executive who asked not to be named.

“There are even rumors that if Ishikawa can’t survive, New Party Daichi might come in” and field a candidate in the district, he said.

Nakagawa defeated Ishikawa in the Hokkaido No. 11 district in 2005. Ishikawa, however, managed to get into the Lower House through the proportional representation segment of the ballot. Suzuki, who heads New Party Daichi, also owes his Diet seat to proportional representation.

The LDP executive said Nakagawa’s recent trouble disappointed many female longtime Tokachi supporters.

“Women thought Nakagawa was clean. That is why it will be all the more difficult for him to recover” from his tarnished image, he said.

Some locals have praised the 35-year-old, first-term Ishikawa as a refreshing change from Nakagawa, a grizzled veteran politician who has held the agriculture and economy, trade and industry Cabinet portfolios and was once the LDP’s policy chief.

They pointed out Nakagawa can’t return to Tokachi as often as Ishikawa because of his official duties in Tokyo. The freshman Ishikawa does so almost every week, delivering regular speeches and cultivating a favorable reputation.

His questioning by prosecutors, however, has put his team in a difficult situation.

“A somewhat favorable wind subsided and now a contrary wind is undoubtedly blowing,” admitted a former executive of Ishikawa’s camp.

The executive indicated he has not given up on Ishikawa beating Nakagawa head to head in the general election that must be held by this fall.

“We will only have to get across that Ishikawa is an upright individual who has done nothing dubious.”

Some local voters say they are mystified by the string of scandals that have rocked the major farm and dairy region.

“We cannot be proud of” the troubles, said Katsuhiro Yamamoto, a 66-year-old farmer. “Tokachi people are certainly disturbed by this.”

He said Nakagawa has been an indispensable representative for Tokachi.

“Thanks to Nakagawa, Tokachi’s agriculture has become what it is today. We have been taken care of” by Nakagawa, he said.

A 38-year-old accountant in the region agreed.

“I want Nakagawa to win (in the next election) since he can certainly bring back money for public works, construction and agriculture that support the local economy,” he said.