Newly appointed transport minister Nobuteru Ishihara indicated Monday he might sack Japan Highway Public Corp. President Haruho Fujii over the troubled entity’s controversial balance sheet.

Speaking at an evening news conference following the reshuffled Cabinet’s first meeting, Ishihara said he will meet with Fujii before deciding whether to urge him to step down.

“I will have no choice but to sack (Fujii) if we fail to find common ground during the talks,” Ishihara said.

Fujii has come under intense scrutiny since the veracity of the public corporation’s balance sheet came into question. Ishihara’s predecessor, Chikage Ogi, had been reluctant to remove Fujii.

Japan Highway released a rosy balance sheet showing its assets exceeded its liabilities to the tune of 5.76 trillion yen as of March 31. But one of its senior officials has alleged the existence of a secret balance sheet that shows Japan Highway’s debts greatly exceeding its assets.

The official said this document has been kept secret because Japan Highway fears that news of its negative net worth will mean it cannot build new expressways after its privatization in 2005.

Ishihara has expressed frustration that Fujii gave different accounts about the balance sheet during Diet deliberations and at meetings of a government panel to discuss the privatization of Japan Highway and three other public expressway operators.

Ishihara, former minister in charge of administrative reform, said now that he has the power to approve personnel changes at public highway operators, he must meet with Fujii to find out once and for all the truth behind the allegation of a secret balance sheet.

Japan Highway has insisted that a major auditor recently gave its official balance sheet the green light, but Ishihara says the auditing firm merely checked the figures on the balance sheet, which has no detailed back-up data.

If a top executive of a private company gave a false account of its financial statements, he or she would be sacked and could be held criminally responsible for window-dressing, Ishihara said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.