Ex-finance chief Nakagawa dies

Initial police investigation rules out suicide, foul play

Kyodo News

Former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, whose political career went downhill after he appeared to be drunk at a news conference in Rome in February, was found dead Sunday morning at his home in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, police said.

Nakagawa, 56, wearing a polo shirt and shorts, was lying face down on a bed on the second floor without any apparent external wounds, the police said. His wife found the body and called for an ambulance at around 8:30 a.m.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, no farewell note was discovered in the home and the possibility of a suicide or crime was low. There were no signs that the room was disturbed, officers said.

There were traces of vomit on the bed, and packs of what appeared to be sleeping tablets were on a table and in its drawer, the police said.

An administrative autopsy indicated Nakagawa may have died of a circulatory disease he had been suffering from, police sources said, adding that traces of alcohol were found in his body.

A senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said the coroner did not observe any evidence of suicide but decided to perform an autopsy because the cause of death was not immediately apparent.

The time of death was estimated at around 11 p.m. Saturday, while emergency personnel confirmed his death at 8:27 a.m. Sunday, the police said.

When Nakagawa’s 50-year-old wife came home at around 9 p.m. Saturday, she saw him sleeping half on the floor with his upper body face down on the bed, but she did not sense anything was wrong, they said.

Nakagawa was among the high-profile Liberal Democratic Party members who lost their seats in the Aug. 30 Lower House election.

First elected in December 1983, he had served eight terms in the Diet. He was appointed finance minister and financial services minister in September 2008 in the administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso.

He stepped down from the Cabinet posts in mid-February after his widely ridiculed performance at the news conference following a Group of Seven financial leaders meeting in Rome.

Hailing from Hokkaido, the University of Tokyo graduate was once regarded as a possible future prime minister after he held important posts such as agriculture minister and trade minister, as well as LDP policy chief.

Nakagawa lost to a Democratic Party of Japan candidate Aug. 30 in the Hokkaido No. 11 district and was unable to secure a seat through the proportional representation system that gives candidates a second chance.

Senior LDP lawmakers expressed surprise over Nakagawa’s death, with Aso, who had been close to him, saying he was “essential” for rebuilding the LDP.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura speculated that Nakagawa may have been both physically and mentally exhausted due to the shock of losing the election, saying, “Mr. Nakagawa had good policymaking abilities, and he would have played an important part in Japan’s future political scene.”

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed his condolences in a statement saying that he was “very surprised” to hear the news and “feels regretful” as a fellow politician also representing a Hokkaido district.

People in Nakagawa’s home district also said they were surprised by his death.

“He was a Lower House member who carried the future of Hokkaido on his shoulders,” said Hidenobu Takeuchi, a member of the LDP chapter in Hokkaido who learned of the development from a media organization.

After graduating from Todai, Nakagawa went to work at the Industrial Bank of Japan, which has integrated management with two other banks to form the Mizuho Financial Group Inc. He entered politics after his father, Ichiro Nakagawa, a former farm minister, committed suicide in January 1983 in a Sapporo hotel.

Nakagawa’s defeat in August marked the collapse of the strong electoral power base built by his father that had been dubbed the “Nakagawa kingdom.”