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The Foreign Ministry spent around 30 million yen on 4,427 bottles of wine in the three years beginning fiscal 1997, according to documents revealed by the ministry Thursday.

The wine was bought to entertain foreign guests, according to the documents.

The most expensive wine, a French vintage, cost around 66,000 yen per bottle, the documents show.

Responding to an information disclosure request by a citizens’ group, the ministry released part of 192 pages of documents relating to fiscal 1996 through fiscal 2000. No wine was bought in fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2000.

The ministry did not buy the wine with the secret diplomatic funds that are at the center of a recent embezzlement scandal but instead used funds earmarked to cover the expenses of foreigners invited to Japan, according to the documents.

Shigeki Okutsu, director of the Tokyo-based citizens’ group that requested the information, said: “It is extremely doubtful whether it (the ministry) really needs wine.

“When purchases are made, they are concentrated at the end of a fiscal year or in December, and there were also years without any purchases, which is unnatural.”

The group’s request for the documents was issued under the information disclosure law.

In March, former Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told the Diet: “Allegations that the Foreign Ministry is purchasing wine that costs tens of thousands of yen per bottle, with some costing 100,000 yen, is totally contrary to the facts. It is not possible.”

According to the documents, however, the most expensive wine the ministry purchased was a 1989 Chateau Laffite Rothschild. The ministry bought 24 bottles of the wine in March 1998 at 65,800 yen per bottle.

In March 1999, the ministry purchased 1,800 bottles of wine at a total cost of around 10 million yen.

The fiscal 2001 budget for funds to cover the expenses of foreigners invited to stay in Japan stands at about 426 million yen.

Some 5 million yen was left over from these funds in fiscal 1998, after expenditures were subtracted. In fiscal 1999, however, the amount left over stood at around 60 million yen.

When quizzed on the issue in March, Kono said, “We have never made wine purchases from secret diplomatic funds, but have made purchases using other funds.”

The Foreign Ministry has recently been embroiled in a scandal involving Katsutoshi Matsuo, a former ministry official who was arrested and indicted after allegedly embezzling more than 260 million yen in government funds.

Matsuo is accused of using the Cabinet Secretariat’s secret funds for personal purposes between 1993 and 1999, when he headed a ministry division providing logistics support for prime ministerial visits overseas.

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