National

Education ministry's top bureaucrat Kazuo Todani quits amid bribery scandals

Kyodo

Kazuo Todani, the education ministry’s top bureaucrat, stepped down Friday to take the blame for bribery scandals that embroiled senior officials there, making him the second vice education minister to leave the post in less than two years.

His departure came after two officials were arrested and indicted over separate bribery cases recently. In one case, Futoshi Sano, a former director-general of the science and technology bureau, was arrested for allegedly helping Tokyo Medical University secure a government subsidy in exchange for a place at the institution for his son.

In January last year, Todani, 61, entered the top post after Kihei Maekawa quit when the ministry’s systematic amakudari placements came to light. Amakudari, meaning “descent from heaven,” is a practice in which officials illegally land lucrative postretirement jobs at institutions they once supervised. The long-standing practice has stirred a public outcry.

But the ministry was roiled by the further scandals that suggest corruption may be prevailing. Todani himself was found to have been entertained by a former consulting firm executive whose involvement is suspected in both of the bribery scandals. The executive, Koji Taniguchi, 47, has been indicted on charge of bribery.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a news conference Friday, “I want to apologize sincerely. We will work to regain trust.”

The outgoing top bureaucrat, who was disciplined the same day for the apparently inappropriate relationship with Taniguchi, told reporters, “I take my punishment seriously and am deeply sorry for causing public mistrust.”

Todani, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau chief Michiyasu Takahashi, 57, and Higher Education Bureau head Hiroshi Yoshimoto, 56, were slapped with pay cuts as they have all been suspected of being wined and dined by Taniguchi. In some cases their taxi fares were paid for by Taniguchi.

Takahashi also resigned Friday.

In the other bribery case, Kazuaki Kawabata, a former director-general for international affairs at the education ministry, was arrested in July on suspicion of receiving bribes in the form of wining and dining by Taniguchi in return for providing a favor to his firm. Kawabata was indicted the following month.

Sources close to the matter said Taniguchi had earned himself the nickname “Kasumigaseki broker” because he was skillful at creating close ties with bureaucrats and bringing them over to his side. He seems to have increased his influence by first approaching an Upper House lawmaker from an opposition party and helping with policy planning. Taniguchi, who accompanied the lawmaker to parties, was seen handing out business cards with the title “policy adviser.”

“He probably thought he would not be totally rejected by bureaucrats if he used the influence of politicians,” an acquaintance said. Taking advantage of the lax discipline among bureaucrats, Taniguchi had created a “business model” to entertain government officials at high-end clubs in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

Kawabata was indicted for allegedly being provided with ¥1.5 million worth of bribes in the form of meals, drinks and taxi tickets. He is suspected of being wined and dined about 20 times.

Kawabata was on loan at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at the time and was in a position to evaluate JAXA’s business contracts.

Prosecutors have searched Todani’s office, suspecting he was present during the wining and dining by the consulting firm.

By setting up an investigative team, the ministry asked all employees whether they had ever accepted money or been wined and dined by external institutions.

Last year, the ministry took disciplinary action against or reprimanded a total of 43 officials for their involvement in the organized revolving-door re-employment of retired civil servants.

Coronavirus banner