Agura Bokujo victims may sue Kaieda

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Investors who were fleeced when the Agura Bokujo cattle farm business went under are threatening to sue Democratic Party of Japan President Banri Kaieda for damages over articles and books he wrote 20 years ago recommending investment in the ranch, according to their lawyers.

Out of the thousands of Agura Bokujo victims nationwide, 94 filed for civil conciliation with the Tokyo Summary Court last June, demanding ¥150 million in damages against Kaieda. But since the DPJ chief has refused to accept any of the legal blame, some are preparing to take the case to the Tokyo District Court in February, said Motomitsu Nakagawa, a lawyer and secretary general of a group of attorneys supporting some 6,400 victims nationwide.

“Kaieda was a famous economic analyst who should have known the dangers of this type of beef investment, but he failed to specify the risks. . . . True, it was not a case directly caused by Kaieda, but he bears some responsibility,” Nakagawa told The Japan Times.

“Zero risk” and “principle guaranteed” were phrases Kaieda specifically used to describe investing in Agura Bokujo during his days as an economic analyst in the 1980s and ’90s. During his first news conference as DPJ leader in December, Kaieda admitted he too had invested in Agura Bokujo, but said that after receiving dividends “it was over” for him. He refused to elaborate further.

According to Nakagawa, the group of 94 ex-investors decided to put their money into Aguara Bokujo after reading Kaieda’s magazine columns. The plaintiffs lost a combined ¥1.5 billion when the business filed for bankruptcy and are seeking 10 percent of that sum from Kaieda.

Since last June, the plaintiffs have held three fruitless rounds of consultations with Kaieda’s side. Nakagawa said the last attempt to strike a deal will be made Feb. 5, but if Kaieda continues to rebuff the victims’ claims, some of them are prepared to take their legal battle to the Tokyo District Court.

A lawyer from the Yamane Horitsu Sogo Jimusho law firm representing Kaieda argued that he bears no legal responsibility over the investors’ financial losses, explaining the DPJ chief will not change his position over the issue.

Agura Bokujo filed for bankruptcy in August 2011, blaming fallout from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns for contaminating its beef cattle with radioactive cesium. Founded in 1979, Agura Bokujo raised around 145,000 cattle at some 370 farms nationwide through a franchising operation, promoting investments in cattle breeding.

Most of the ¥420 billion it still owes investors is unlikely to be paid, and some victims have filed criminal lawsuits against its former executives, alleging fraud.

“Some (of the plaintiffs) used savings they had put aside for retirement or severance pay and they lost all that money. . . . These people’s lives and life plans have been completely destroyed,” said Nakagawa.

Some are preparing to claim damages from the state, he added.