Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has effectively admitted that he was only nominally employed at a Yokohama-based real estate company in the early 1970s — even though he was registered as a member of a public pension system designed to serve full-time corporate employees.

Opposition lawmakers claim that Koizumi may have been illegally registered as a regular worker at Sanpuku Fudosan (Sanpuku Real Estate) from 1970 to 1974.

According to a law related to the “kosei-nenkin” pension program, an employer should be punished if it registers workers whose actual working conditions are not recognized as those of “regular employment.”

“I was told by the president that my job (at the company) was to get elected in the next election,” Koizumi told a House of Councilors committee on Thursday afternoon.

“He said that I did not need to go to the company. I was invited to company trips (for employees) occasionally, and asked to come to the office when important guests were visiting,” the prime minister said.

Koizumi insisted, however, that he “did work” at the company, which paid him a salary.

Koizumi said he was hired by the company after he failed in his first attempt to win a Diet seat in the December 1969 House of Representatives election.

Koizumi ran in the race after his father, Junya, also a Diet member, died suddenly before the election. The president of the company was a friend of Koizumi’s deceased father.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has declined to comment on whether Koizumi’s status was that of a regular employee, as defined by the law, saying cases of this kind are judged on a case-by-case basis.

Employees with significantly fewer working hours than full-time workers are not usually recognized as regular workers eligible for the pension program, although the importance of their role at a given company should also be considered in some cases, such as when the person in question holds an executive position, a Social Insurance Agency official said.

According to public pension payment records disclosed to reporters, Koizumi was registered as a regular employee at the real estate firm from April 1970 to October 1974. In December 1972, Koizumi was elected to the Lower House.

Opposition lawmakers claim that a Diet member would have been too busy to work as a regular employee.

Later Thursday, Koizumi failed to respond to repeated queries from reporters on what kind of work he carried out at the company, saying, “It is different from what ordinary salaried workers do.”

Asked if he undertook any clerical duties, Koizumi said, “I didn’t do that kind of (work) very often.”

In fact, Koizumi is not entitled to receive any benefits from the public pension system because he has paid premiums for a total of only 21 years, falling short of the minimum 25 years required.

But if he had paid for the necessary 25 years and then claimed benefits from the kosei-nenkin pension, the employer who registered Koizumi in the pension program could have been charged with committing fraud, said Sadao Hirano, a Democratic Party of Japan member, during an Upper House session last week.

Indeed, in 1998, Yukio Shimizu, former mayor of the city of Higashi Osaka, was found guilty by the Osaka District Court of defrauding the kosei-nenkin pension system of benefits worth 7 million yen.

Shimizu conspired with the then chairman of a cast metal company to register himself with the kosei-nenkin pension scheme, although he did not actually work at the firm as registered from 1971 June to January 1990.

During Thursday’s Diet session, Koizumi praised the president of the real estate company as “a very generous man,” saying he is still grateful to the president and that he “would like to visit his grave” after he quits as prime minister.

But the president, Yoshinori Fukuzumi, is still alive, according to one of his sons, who declined to be named. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda corrected Koizumi’s remark on Friday.

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