Former Hokkaido rail chief found dead

JIJI

A man found dead Wednesday morning in the water in the port of Yoichi, Hokkaido, has been identified as former Hokkaido Railway Co. President Shinichi Sakamoto, 73, local police and other sources said.

His body was discovered in the water at around 8:20 a.m. and bore no major wounds. The Hokkaido Prefectural Police confirmed that it was Sakamoto using fingerprints and other data Wednesday afternoon. His car was found near the port.

The police said it is highly likely Sakamoto committed suicide although no suicide note has been found.

Sakamoto, who had been advising the railway better known as JR Hokkaido, was scheduled to attend a business organization meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, railway officials said. But when a secretary went to pick him up at his house just past 9:30 a.m., he wasn’t there, they said. The secretary had driven Sakamoto to his home Tuesday shortly after 5 p.m., they added.

Sakamoto joined the now-defunct Japanese National Railways in 1964. He served as JR Hokkaido president from 1996 and chairman from 2003. Even after stepping aside to become an adviser in June 2007, Sakamoto was an influential figure at the railway.

JR Hokkaido was hit by fires and derailments last year that led to the discovery of its long-neglected tracks and falsified rail inspection data.

The carrier was slapped with a business improvement order by the transport ministry after a limited express train derailed on its Sekisho Line and caught fire in May 2011.

In September that year, then-President Naotoshi Nakajima was found dead in an apparent suicide.

“Sakamoto’s death is very painful and regrettable.” JR Hokkaido Chairman Akio Koike said in a statement. “We will steadily cope with challenges facing our company.”