Maehara says foreign missions will move or sell excessive wine supplies

by Masami Ito

It looks like the beginning of the end of wine heaven for officials in the foreign service, now that the Foreign Ministry has started taking measures to decrease massive stocks of wine at dozens of Japanese embassies and consulates.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Tuesday the bottles of wine will eventually be reduced to “appropriate” levels of three times each mission’s annual consumption by moving some to other missions with smaller stocks and selling some to private dealers.

Maehara, however, said the government couldn’t provide specific numbers on how much money will be saved by the move.

“We aren’t making any assumptions on the sum of money because it depends on how much of the wine will be sold,” he said. “But we must first lower the stock to three times the annual consumption and get rid of the excess stock.”

The ministry faced strong criticism after a recent Board of Audit survey found that 51 embassies, consulates and foreign missions had squirreled away at least 4,000 bottles of wine, each costing more than ¥20,000, as of last March.

The most egregious case was at Japan’s delegation to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, which had 7,896 bottles on hand, more than 30 times what the mission consumed in fiscal 2009.

The Board of Audit also found that the consulate in New York discarded 198 bottles because they had deteriorated in quality, after paying around ¥2 million for them.

Maehara stressed that the overstocking took place under the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, and that the Democratic Party of Japan is taking measures to deal with the problem.

The ministry’s move to reduce the wine stocks was endorsed by the Cabinet as the government’s official answer to a question by Takahiro Asano, a Lower House member from New Party Daichi.

Information from Kyodo added