OSAKA — Former Higashi-Osaka Mayor Yukio Shimizu admitted to all charges brought against him in a welfare pension scam and apologized to the city’s residents during the first hearing of his trial Friday at the Osaka District Court.

Shimizu, 64, stands accused of illegally obtaining 7 million yen from a welfare pension fund and helping a female friend arrange to falsely register as a resident of the city with the Higashi-Osaka Municipal Government. His action enabled her to illegally receive welfare payments and join a health insurance plan.

He is standing trial along with three others involved in the case. “Because of my wrongdoings, I caused big problems for (Higashi-Osaka) citizens. I sincerely apologize for that,” the former mayor said.

According to prosecutors’ opening statement, Shimizu asked Kazuo Hashizume, 57, in June 1971 to file false certificates of his employment at a company headed by Hashizume so he could register for pension payments. They claimed Shimizu was unable to afford the premiums for pension and health insurance schemes a few years after his election to the assembly, in 1967.

Shimizu remained on the company’s rosters as an employee through January 1990, until which time all premiums had been paid by Hashizume’s company, they said. After serving on both the municipal and prefectural assemblies, Shimizu was elected mayor of Higashi-Osaka in December 1989.

Shimizu had received a total of about 7 million yen over 22 occasions between February 1995 and April this year after turning 60, at which age a person can begin receiving pension payments, they said.

Shimizu is also accused of helping Ayano Watanabe, 58, who managed a clothing store, register as a resident of Higashi-Osaka in June 1995 although she lived in Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture, they said.

Watanabe, who is also in custody, could not pay the premiums for both the national pension and health insurance schemes by 1995, and sought employment so that she could begin receiving a pension at the age of 60, they said.

Insurers in need of public trust, industry chief says>

The newly appointed chairman of the Life Insurance Association of Japan said Friday that the country’s life insurers should attempt to regain public trust as the industry undergoes “Big Bang” financial deregulation.

Koichi Yoshida, 57, also president of Sumitomo Life Insurance Co., was appointed chairman of the association during a meeting earlier in the day.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Yoshida conveyed a sense of crisis in referring to the industry’s deteriorating business environment following the bankruptcy of Nissan Mutual Life Insurance Co. in April 1997.

“Since that bankruptcy, customer anxiety about life insurance has grown larger than expected,” he said. “It has been reflected in our business showing, too.”

However, despite this unfavorable trend, the need for life insurance is growing and the country’s life insurers should try to regain public trust by increasing competitiveness, Yoshida said.

To that end, life insurers should be changed from mutual companies to joint-stock companies, since the latter makes it easier to raise large amounts of capital, Yoshida said.

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