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UR housing authority at center of Amari scandal contradicts Shukan Bunshun story

by

Staff Writer

The semi-governmental housing corporation at the center of the scandal that forced Akira Amari to step down as economic minister has denied that his secretaries pressured it to favor a Chiba construction firm in a dispute, contradicting the magazine that broke the story.

The weekly Shukan Bunshun last month quoted Takeshi Isshiki, an employee of the unidentified company, as saying he provided money in exchange for Amari’s two secretaries to exert pressure on the Urban Renaissance Agency (UR) to settle compensation disputes over a redevelopment project in Chiba Prefecture.

In response, UR disclosed memos late Monday written by UR staff during 10 meetings with four secretaries, including the two in question, at Amari’s office from June 2013 through last month.

“We have confirmed that the secretaries made no remarks suggesting that the amount of compensation money should be raised,” Hiromi Nakase, head of UR’s general affairs department, said during a news conference in Tokyo Monday.

However, one of the memos showed that, at least at one stage, one of the secretaries suggested that “it may be better” for UR to pay more compensation money to parties involved and have them move out from the area permanently. The parties apparently included the construction firm in question.

The meeting with UR officials at which the secretary made the remark took place last Oct. 9 in Amari’s office near the Diet building, according to the memo.

But the memo also showed that the same secretary, at the end of conversation, said, “our office cannot deal with this case,” and that the amount of compensation money “should never be raised” because of any request from Amari’s office.

UR took the latter comment as the secretary’s final word on the matter, and the firm does not feel it faced any pressure from Amari’s office to favor the construction company, Nakase said.

Amari resigned last week after the Shukan Bunshun reported that one of the two secretaries received ¥5 million in cash from the company, ¥3 million of which was not reported in official political funding reports.

Amari also admitted that the two secretaries enjoyed wining and dining at the expense of the company, which he identified only with its initial, “S.”

If the secretaries did pressure UR to favor the company during the compensation talks, it could be a violation of a law prohibiting Diet members and their secretaries from interfering in administrative processes to conclude a public contract in exchange for rewards.