A former member of the Central Social Insurance Medical Council pleaded guilty Friday to accepting bribes from Japan Dental Association executives between 2001 and 2003 in return for providing them favors.

During the opening session of his Tokyo District Court trial, Takeshi Shimomura, 74, a former member of a health ministry advisory panel and former chief of the Social Insurance Agency, said he regretted having betrayed the public’s trust.

“I should have been more assertive” and refused the bribes, he said. “I really regret that.”

Prosecutors said Shimomura accepted 6.1 million yen in cash, and was wined and dined at expensive restaurants by then JDA Chairman Sadao Usuda, 73, and other executives of the association between February 2001 and January 2003.

In return, Shimomura backed the association’s bid to raise dental treatment fees during health ministry advisory panel meetings.

The prosecutors said the dental industry has long been frustrated because the fees dentists could charge patients for treatment were much lower than those charged by doctors.

In 2000, thanks to the JDA’s persistence, the health ministry introduced a new surcharge category for patients visiting a dentist for the first time, thereby allowing dentists to charge higher fees.

But the dental association was unhappy that dentists, in order to receive the surcharge, had to perform extra services, including dental X-rays and making molds of patients’ teeth, so Usuda and other former members of the association asked Shimomura to persuade the health ministry to relax these conditions, they said.

Shimomura subsequently backed the JDA’s stance at a July 2001 meeting of the health ministry panel and did not object when another government panel discussed a proposal that would be advantageous to dentists in January 2002, they said.

Usuda and two other association executives who have since quit the organization have already pleaded guilty to bribing Shimomura and another medical council member during a separate trial before the district court earlier this month.

Another association executive has postponed entering a plea and the former chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Dental Association has denied any guilt.

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.