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Land minister Nobuteru Ishihara charged Sunday that Japan Highway Public Corp. President Haruho Fujii tried to blackmail him by indicating knowledge of shady land deals involving influential politicians.

If such a scandal came to light, “there will be dead people,” Ishihara quoted Fujii as saying. Ishihara made the allegation in interviews aired Sunday morning by Fuji TV and TV Asahi.

Fujii’s remarks came during a five-hour meeting with Ishihara on Oct. 5, the land minister said. After that meeting, Ishihara announced he was seeking Fujii’s resignation. Fujii has refused to comply.

A prolonged row over Japan Highway and fresh scandals involving ruling party lawmakers would be a severe blow to the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

It would also damage the ruling bloc in the Nov. 9 Lower House election.

According to Ishihara, Fujii said five to six politicians were involved in a “suspicious” manner with sales of government-owned land to the private sector when Fujii was a top bureaucrat in the now-defunct Construction Ministry.

Ishihara said Fujii identified the politicians by their initials, but he was able to guess who Fujii was talking about.

“I asked him to reveal the facts in public if he really believes there is something untoward,” Ishihara said in the Fuji TV interview. According to Ishihara, Fujii replied, “There will be dead people” if he did so.

Asked if he took it as a blackmail attempt by Fujii to hold onto his job, Ishihara indicated that he did.

“It’s up to the interpretation of whom Fujii was talking to when he said ‘there will be dead people,’ ” Ishihara said.

“But he was talking with the land minister about whether he should remain in office or not. You don’t think he was talking about (accidental) victims in construction work,” Ishihara said.

Fujii could not be reached Sunday for comment.

The selling of the government land took place while Fujii was at the Construction Ministry, Ishihara quoted Fujii as saying.

Fujii joined the ministry in 1962 and left in 1995 after serving as vice administrative minister, the top bureaucratic position.

The Construction Ministry, which was later merged into the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, had huge influence over lawmakers due to its control over numerous public works projects.

According to Ishihara, Fujii also said he “has taken care of” ruling party lawmakers who are in the “Road Tribe,” so named because of their vested interests in road construction.

Fujii offered no further elaboration, Ishihara said. But Fujii’s words indicate a cozy — if not corrupt — relationship between construction ministry bureaucrats and “Road Tribe” lawmakers.

Fujii said he is determined to fight “a war that could continue 10 or 20 years” over his position at Japan Highway, according to Ishihara.

Fujii told reporters after the lengthy meeting with Ishihara, “I’m not the type of a person who goes on forever clinging to his position.”

Political observers say the Cabinet wanted to make Fujii’s dismissal a show of determination for administrative reform.

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