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Chief of scandal-tainted Japanese hospital chain offers to resign

Kyodo

Torao Tokuda, chief of the Tokushukai hospital chain, offered Tuesday to resign as head of the core firm of the mammoth medical and welfare service group amid an election fraud scandal involving his son and hospital staff.

Tokuda, the 75-year-old founder of the Tokushukai Group and chairman of Tokushukai Medical Corp., expressed his intention in the aftermath of a string of raids by prosecutors on the group’s Tokyo head office and other locations since Sept. 17 on suspicion that employees illegally aided his son’s Lower House campaign last December.

Takeshi Tokuda, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, was re-elected.

The elder Tokuda said in a statement released by the group, which operates 66 hospitals in Japan and one in Sofia, Bulgaria, “It is undeniable that I, Torao Tokuda, as the (Tokushukai Medical) chairman, am responsible for the fact that the situation has evolved into today’s. I intend to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.”

He had served four terms in the Lower House representing the Kagoshima Prefecture No. 2 district until he retired from politics in 2005. He was succeeded by his son, who secured a third term in last December’s election.

Tokushukai Medical is suspected of violating the Public Offices Election Law by making employees from some of the hospitals and other group entities aid the younger Tokuda’s campaign, making up for their unpaid leave during the campaign period by padding the amount of their bonuses. The law bars election candidates from paying campaign staffs.

Takao Suzuki, vice chairman of Tokushukai Medical, denied any advance knowledge of the alleged compensatory payments through the inflated bonus scheme. He told a news conference Tuesday that he “became aware of the allegation from newspaper articles.”

While denying his own involvement in any election fraud, Suzuki said he gave the same testimony when questioned by prosecutors.

Responding to allegations that Torao Tokuda instructed the group to have employees assist his son’s campaign, Suzuki said, “All we can do is to await the results of the (prosecutors’) investigation.”

But he suggested that Tokuda may be allowed to keep his influence over Tokushukai Medical’s management.

“It is possible that we will have him take part in board meetings down the track and receive his advice,” Suzuki said.

Tokuda, a native of Tokunoshima Island off Kagoshima, has been receiving medical care for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at a hospital in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Tokuda’s replacement will be picked at an extraordinary board meeting.

The group has a combined nationwide workforce of 27,000 in a range of medical and welfare services-related businesses, including nursing homes. It employs 2,300 doctors.