Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose’s announcement of his intention to resign does not relieve him of the public duty to give a convincing explanation of the ¥50 million he received under questionable circumstances from the scandal-tainted Tokushukai hospital operator group in November 2012. He owes that duty to Tokyoites who voted him into office with a record 4.33 million votes just about a year ago. In addition, prosecutors should conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the loan in an effort to determine the truth.
In a Dec. 19 news conference, Inose clung to his claim that the money was a personal loan, and not an undeclared contribution to his campaign for the gubernatorial election in December 2012, although he received the money right after he visited group founder Torao Tokuda to tell him he was running in the race.
The money was returned to Tokushukai only after the hospital group was investigated by prosecutors in September for alleged illegal activities in the election campaign for the founder’s son Takeshi, who was returned to the Lower House in the December 2012 election.
The governor said he was stepping down to break a political impasse caused by the scandal, which was hurting the metropolitan government’s administration and delaying preparations to launch the organizing committee for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, which he helped to clinch for the nation’s capital in September.
Inose said he “should not have borrowed the money” and called himself an “amateur” who was unfamiliar with the ways of politics — despite having served as deputy Tokyo governor since 2007 under Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, before succeeding him last year.
It’s hard to believe that Inose — by this time an experienced politician — wouldn’t have understood the ethical ramifications of borrowing a large amount of money without collateral or interest fees from someone whose business would come under his supervision when he gets elected as governor. The office of governor has the power to approve or reject a hospital operator’s plan to open new institutions or increase its bed capacity in Tokyo.
Inose has denied either giving favors to Tokushukai or being asked to. In earlier sessions of the metropolitan assembly, he said he had not been aware that Tokushukai operated a hospital and a day-care center for the elderly in Tokyo, or that the metropolitan government had provided a total of ¥960 million in subsidies to these facilities while he was deputy governor. He also said he did not know that the metropolitan government had authorized the 2015 opening of a new Tokushukai group hospital in western Tokyo just before he visited Torao Tokuda in November last year.
As deputy governor, Inose attended the June 2012 shareholders’ meeting of Tokyo Electric Power Co., in which the metropolitan government has a stake. There, he urged management to sell off a hospital the utility operated for its employees and relatives in Shinjuku, saying the hospital was not sufficiently used. Tepco announced that October that it would sell the facility at auction. Tokushukai, which was reportedly seeking to open a group hospital in central Tokyo, joined in the bidding this past August, only to withdraw after the group was probed over the campaign violation.
Inose has repeatedly denied that Tokushukai asked him for favors in the sale of the Tepco hospital. He said the ¥50 million had nothing to do with the issue and that he did not know Tokushukai was interested in the Tepco hospital, although at the Dec. 19 news conference, he effectively admitted that the topic was raised when he met with Torao Tokuda.
With his decision to step down, the metropolitan assembly withdrew its plan to open a special investigation panel with legal powers to get to the bottom of the scandal. However, accusations filed by civic groups are expected to trigger a probe by prosecutors as to why Tokushukai provided the ¥50 million to Inose. Inose cannot evade his responsibility to come clean simply by resigning. He must tell the truth.