Japan Highway Public Corp. President Haruho Fujii blasted transport minister Nobuteru Ishihara in a hearing Friday for trying to sack him for what he called political motives.
Fujii, 67, now considered a cornered mouse over Japan Highway’s alleged attempts to hide its debt-ridden finances, was given an opportunity at the hearing to fight Ishihara’s move to fire him from the firm’s top post. Fujii claimed his human rights were being infringed upon.
The one-day hearing was held in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Law as part of the dismissal process for Fujii. The hearing itself has no legal binding on Ishihara’s decision to sack Fujii next Monday.
Fujii’s side demanded that the hearing continue for more than a day, but Shigetaro Yamamoto, a director general for policy planning at the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry who presided over the hearing, said the hearing process was complete. Yamamoto said he will start compiling a record of the hearing and present a report to Ishihara.
On Oct. 5, Ishihara ordered Fujii to resign to take the blame for the turmoil embroiling the semigovernmental corporation due to his apparent supervisory shortcomings and its troubled balance sheet. Fujii appears poised to fight Ishihara to the end.
Friday’s lengthy hearing, unprecedented in that it was opened to the media, got off to a shaky start when it opened 10 a.m. with the press corps swarming into a tightly guarded government conference hall to watch Fujii’s every move.
Fujii’s side had asked that the hearing be open to live broadcasts for what it claimed was the public’s right to know. But the ministry limited media access, explaining that televising the proceedings could negatively affect the participants’ state of mind.
Fujii came with four attorneys. The ministry sent four officials from the Road Bureau.
From the outset, Yoshihiro Konagai, one of the four attorney’s, complained that Fujii’s side was not given enough time to prepare for the hearing since they received notice of the dismissal process on Oct. 7.
Ishihara launched the process on Oct. 6 when Fujiii defied his order, which came after their five-hour meeting the previous day.
Fujii’s attorneys criticized the ministry for trying to wind up the hearing in a day, noting Ishihara’s mind was made up on Monday as the day of the axing.
Konagai claimed Fujii was being singled out as a public enemy by the ruling bloc as part of its campaign for the Nov. 9 Lower House general election.
Article 13 of the Japan Highway Public Corporation Law empowers the minister to remove highway corporation executives from their posts if they are deemed unfit for the job due to mental or physical breakdown, a violation of their duties or other reasons that call their competency into question.
The ministry cited three reasons why Fujii is not suited to the post, including his dealing with the so-called secret balance sheet compiled in July last year by an in-house project team, which showed Japan Highway had a capital deficit of some 600 billion yen. A balance sheet released by Japan Highway in June claimed it had a positive net worth of 5.76 trillion yen as of March 31.
Fujii was blamed for neglecting to confirm the existence of data on the secret balance sheet till August, even though newspapers reported on it in May.
Fujii angrily reiterated that there was no way Japan Highway could compile a balance sheet based on private-sector standards because it had no such accounting method, and only came up with its official balance sheet in June in collaboration with noted accountants.
Besides the coverup scandal, public attention has focused on whether Fujii would reveal corruption involving lawmakers and Japan Highway or the now-defunct Construction Ministry.
Ishiraha had claimed Fujii threatened to expose his knowledge of shady transactions involving lawmakers, by providing their initials.
Fujii did not specifically mention any shady dealings during the hearing but said he has long faced “extremely severe (pressure) that I cannot describe in words” from certain parties in “promoting reforms” at Japan Highway. He did not elaborate further.
Fujii is widely believed to have clashed with influential Diet members over vested interests related to the former Construction Ministry, which he joined in 1962 and left in 1995 after serving as vice administrative minister, the top bureaucratic position.
His four-year term as Japan Highway president expires next April 16, with a retirement allowance of 26 million yen.
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