Despite pyramid sales donations, new consumer chief vows to run tight ship


Staff Writer

Newly appointed consumer affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka says he will keep an eye on shady businesses that target consumers, while claiming that donations he received from businesses and a group involved in a pyramid scheme were legal.

Yamaoka, 68, received ¥2.54 million from the dubious sources between 2005 and 2008.

According to his political funding report, the DPJ chapter in the Tochigi No. 4 district headed by Yamaoka got ¥2.06 million, while his own fund management body received ¥480,000.

The new head of the Consumer Affairs Agency, a Lower House member from the Democratic Party of Japan, said during an interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets Tuesday that he will return the money to ward off any “misunderstandings” that he received illegal donations.

The agency was created by the former Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito government in September 2009 to deal with consumer-related issues such as product safety problems and fraud, including those involving pyramid sales schemes.

“The consumer agency will closely watch illegal businesses as it has in the past. . . . You know (the donations) are not a problem legally speaking, but I’m the consumer minister now. It’s important to avoid misunderstandings,” he said.

“I want to secure fairness, transparency and accuracy in the administration going forward. That’s why I personally decided to return all the money.”

A number of problems and complaints have been reported involving pyramid sales schemes, also known as network marketing, which offer salespeople a commission not only for their own product sales but also for the sales of others they recruit.

He avoided commenting on whether the agency will impose tighter regulations on such schemes, saying only “the current regulations are exercised properly.”

Yamaoka was also chairman of a DPJ group supporting network businesses, but he said he took the position because a junior lawmaker asked him to lend his name temporarily.

The senior lawmaker is known as a close ally of indicted DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa. He supported the kingpin in the party’s presidential election in 2010.

Therefore his appointment as consumer minister and as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission was considered a political gesture by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to appease Ozawa loyalists in the name of party unity. Ozawa is still influential; his group is the largest faction in the DPJ.

The party’s internal conflict deepened when DPJ executives under the leadership of Naoto Kan, Ozawa’s rival, suspended his party membership after he was indicted over a political money scandal. His trial is pending.

Yamaoka first entered the Upper House in 1983 and belonged to the conservative LDP. He joined the DPJ in 2003 and has served as Diet affairs chief and party vice president.