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Police arrested two members of a “sokaiya” corporate extortionist group Monday on suspicion of receiving about 23 million yen over 2 1/2 years from Japan Airlines Co. in violation of the Commercial Code.

The Metropolitan Police Department said three JAL officials in charge of general shareholders’ meetings have confessed to providing favors to sokaiya.

The sokaiya were identified as Hitoshi Ogasawara, 51, a senior member of the Morimoto Corporate Research Group, and Mamoru Arai, 53, president of the Taihei lease company, which is based in Meguro Ward. Police suspect JAL executives paid sokaiya some 80 million yen over several years under the pretense of leasing decorative plants.

However, because the airline reportedly cut ties with the sokaiya group in March, police will refrain from arresting the JAL officials involved and only send papers about their case to prosecutors. The JAL case follows a chain of similar payoff scandals involving the Big Four brokerages, Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. that broke since last year.

JAL allegedly gave the money to the lease company, which is under the umbrella of the sokaiya group, so the racketeers would not disrupt its shareholder meetings.

Isao Kaneko, president of Japan Airlines Co., apologized Monday over the scandal. “I would like to apologize for disturbing the public. Although we voluntarily discontinued a contract (with a firm introduced by the sokaiya), it is regrettable that we kept the contract until fiscal 1997,” Kaneko told a news conference.

He and the three former JAL presidents before him have denied any knowledge of the airline’s alleged ties with sokaiya. “I have heard that (JAL) canceled all subscriptions of (sokaiya) magazines since the Commercial Code revision (in 1982),” said Kaneko, who assumed the post in June. “I doubt that we have any ties. If we had any, I would feel very disappointed.”

JAL made repeated contracts with Taihei to lease artificial plants between April in 1990 and March in 1997 after the Morimoto group mediated the deal, sources alleged. In the Taihei deal, JAL would rent about 120 artificial plants a month ostensibly to decorate its offices, for a fee of 5,000 yen per plant in fiscal 1997, the last contract year.

Early last summer, when the carrier started to scrutinize its external business ties in an effort to sever its links with corporate racketeers, it learned that the deal with Taihei was mediated by sokaiya.

JAL waited for the contract to expire in March 1997 and then did not renew it, Kayaba claimed.

He also announced that the carrier has set up a business activities reappraisal committee, a five-member internal panel headed by the carrier’s executive vice president, in an effort to strictly review JAL’s current external business ties.

The salaries of Kaneko and the carrier’s vice presidents will be cut by 50 percent for three months, starting in September, as a gesture of accepting responsibility for the dubious activities.

A member of the sokaiya group is currently on trial in connection with the fatal assault in April on a gangster affiliate.

Other members of the group have been arrested in connection with other sokaiya payoffs, involving Ito-Yokado Co. in 1992, Kirin Brewery Co. in 1993 and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. last year.

JAL was founded in October 1953 and privatized in November 1987.

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