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The already heavy pressure on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka had just risen another notch before he apparently decided to take his life Monday afternoon.

The beleaguered farm minister, attempting to outrun various political fund scandals that had followed him for years, had just learned that some fund management and other bodies linked to his office had received 13 million yen in donations from 14 contractors in his home prefecture of Kumamoto. They had won public works orders from Japan Green Resources Agency, a forestry management entity affiliated with his ministry that was suspected of rigging bids.

It was the same fund body that was found in March to have booked a total of more than 28 million yen in “utility costs” over a five-year period ending in 2005 even though the 62-year-old House of Representatives member was living in an expense-free official parliamentary office.

When questioned in the Diet by opposition lawmakers, Matsuoka said the funds were booked appropriately under the law and attributed the huge utility charges to “special water” he was buying, which he said cost 5,000 yen per 500-ml bottle. The remark sparked public controversy.

Matsuoka is also believed to have accepted about 8.5 million yen in donations over the 10-year period up to 2005 from such parties as contractors, who have seen some of their own executives arrested for alleged involvement in a separate case of bid-rigging involving forestry road construction projects.

On Thursday, two senior J-Green executives were arrested over the series of bid-rigging cases. Commenting on the matter the same day, Matsuoka described the arrests as “extremely regrettable, because it is not only a case of bid-rigging involving public works, but also one initiated by the public sector in which a public entity placing orders was deeply involved.”

Among other scandals, Matsuoka’s secretary was found to have had the World Business Expert Forum buy 1 million yen worth of fundraising tickets, but the money was reported in Matsuoka’s political funds reports. The forum is a fund management body associated with FAC Co., a Fukuoka-based asset management firm that prosecutors searched for evidence of investment law violations in October.

About five years earlier, Matsuoka was questioned about an alleged bribery scandal involving Lower House lawmaker Muneo Suzuki. The Tokyo Public District Prosecutor’s Office suspected that Matsuoka accepted 2 million yen in funds from a Hokkaido timber company along with Suzuki. Suzuki was convicted of bribery and is appealing the ruling.

Born in 1945 in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, Matsuoka graduated from the Agriculture Department of Tottori University and joined the farm ministry. After retiring from the ministry in 1988, Matsuoka successfully ran for the Lower House in 1990.

He became agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister in September.

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