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Prosecutors grill Togo on funds scandal in Europe

Japanese prosecutors in Europe have repeatedly quizzed former elite diplomat Kazuhiko Togo over a breach of trust case involving two Foreign Ministry officials now under arrest and a government-funded committee on aid to Russia, investigative sources said Tuesday.

Masaru Sato, 42, a veteran Russian affairs expert at the Foreign Ministry, and Akira Maejima, 37, assistant director of the ministry’s Oceanian Division, were arrested May 14 and later charged with illegally procuring 30 million yen in travel expenses from the Cooperation Committee.

The money went to Japanese participants in an international conference in Israel in 2000

Togo, 57, who was then director general of the European and Oceanian Affairs Bureau and was in charge of the aid committee, allegedly approved expenditures for the trip, despite opposition from the Treaties Bureau.

Funding the dispatch of officials to countries other than Russia or the former Soviet republics is not allowed under the committee’s operating rules. The committee was set up in 1993 by Japan and the former Soviet republics to assist the latter and to conduct aid projects on the four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

In a regular news conference, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi confirmed that Togo has been interrogated over the case, saying, “I have heard that (the questioning) had taken place.”

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office has dispatched prosecutors to an undisclosed location in Europe where Togo is currently staying and asked him about how the payment was made and whether he was aware of its illegality.

They have questioned Togo for several days with the cooperation of local investigative authorities, according to the sources.

More than 10 Japanese professors and Foreign Ministry experts on Japan-Russian relations attended the conference, sponsored by Tel Aviv University, including Sato, a former analyst in the ministry’s Intelligence and Analysis Bureau.

Togo and Sato arranged for the panel to foot the bill under the pretext of promoting Japan-Russia peace treaty negotiations.

However, the prosecutors are not likely to file criminal charges against Togo, as they believe Sato was the ringleader. They allege he used the influence of now scandal-tainted lawmaker Muneo Suzuki to draw up the scheme and ordered Maejima to prepare a document for it, the sources said.

In addition, Sato and Maejima are suspected of making the Cooperation Committee shoulder about 3 million yen in expenses when they invited an Israeli researcher and his wife to Japan in January 1999.

Togo, a former ambassador to the Netherlands, was dismissed April 26 for inciting policy divisions within a ministry Russian affairs bureau.

Both Sato and Togo are said to have worked closely with Suzuki, who quit the Liberal Democratic Party in March amid a series of scandals.

The prosecutors also asked Togo about the alleged delivery of classified official telegrams from Japanese embassies abroad to Suzuki by Russian division officials under Togo while he served as director general of the European and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

The bureau changed its name to the European Affairs Bureau in January 2001.

Togo was also questioned on how the decision to build a new power plant on Kunashiri Island off Hokkaido was reached, when a consulting company report had said that no such plant was necessary.

The consulting firm, Pacific Consultants International (PCI), based in Tokyo, first submitted a report to the Cooperation Committee in November 1998, denying a new plant was needed. It later rewrote the report, saying building such a facility was of “great significance,” after Suzuki visited the island to observe the state of power generation there.

The Foreign Ministry authorized the construction of the plant in December 1999 and ordered PCI to redo its research for the new report. The plant was completed in November 2000.

Kunashiri is one of the islands off Hokkaido, held by Russia but claimed by Japan, at the heart of a territorial dispute between the two countries.