Yamarin, the Hokkaido timber firm at the center of a bribery probe, in 1998 paid Toshikatsu Matsuoka, a former parliamentary vice farm minister, 2 million yen the same day it allegedly paid a 5 million yen bribe to Muneo Suzuki, a former lawmaker now under arrest on bribery charges, sources said.

Matsuoka, a former agriculture ministry official who later became a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, allegedly received the money on Aug. 4, 1998. An unnamed Matsuoka aide, however, claimed the money was a “political donation.”

Two days later, Matsuoka allegedly talked with senior officials of the Forestry Agency and asked for leniency for Yamarin, which had carried out illegal logging activities.

Matsuoka served as parliamentary vice minister at the agriculture ministry from August 1995 to January 1996.

Sources said Matsuoka returned the money to Yamarin in early 1999 after illegal logging in government forests in Hokkaido became an issue in the Diet.

According to sources at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, Isao Yamada, the 85-year-old chairman of Yamarin, met on Aug. 4, 1998, with Suzuki, who then held the post of deputy chief Cabinet secretary, at the latter’s office in the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

He reportedly asked Suzuki, a former LDP member, to get the Forestry Agency off the firm’s back.

At Suzuki’s behest, Yamarin allegedly delivered 5 million yen in cash to his aide the same day.

Later that day, Yamada and other Yamarin executives met with Matsuoka and gave him 2 million yen.

The next day, Yamarin made a 500,000 yen political donation to Tadahiro Matsushita, then parliamentary vice farm minister and now senior vice minister of the Cabinet Office.

The Matsuoka aide claimed the lawmaker’s office had received a “political donation” from Yamarin and said the money was returned to the firm.

The aide could not confirm the date and the amount of money involved, however, saying all the relevant documents have been “scrapped.”

Matsuoka “has no recollection whatsoever,” the aide said.

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