National

Kepco Chairman Makoto Yagi quits post over gift scandal linked to Fukui nuclear plant

Kyodo, JIJI

Kansai Electric Power Co. Chairman Makoto Yagi resigned Wednesday after criticism over his receipt of gifts from a former official of a central Japan town that hosts one of the firm’s nuclear power plants.

The company also said President Shigeki Iwane would resign the same day that a third-party panel reports the result of its investigation into the scandal.

“We have received severe criticism from our customers and society,” Iwane said at a news conference in Osaka as Yagi and four other executives stepped down to take responsibility for the scandal.

The third-party panel is expected to release its report later in the year, the company said.

“I would like to make my responsibility clear,” Yagi told the same conference. It is understood the post of chairman will remain vacant for an interim period.

The company announced Wednesday it had appointed Keiichi Tadaki, a former prosecutor general, as head of the third-party panel, with its first meeting to be held later in the day.

The embattled company is aiming to restore public trust by revamping its leadership amid mounting criticism over ties between the nation’s nuclear industry and public officials in areas that host power plants.

Kepco has said that 20 officials — including Yagi, 69, and Iwane, 66 — received gifts worth a total of ¥318.45 million ($2.9 million) from Eiji Moriyama, the late deputy mayor of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, between 2006 and 2018.

Yagi and Iwane received gifts worth around ¥8.59 million and ¥1.5 million respectively.

Utilities have built nuclear power plants at sites away from densely populated areas such as Tokyo and Osaka. While safety concerns remain, particularly after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the economic benefits of hosting such plants are often attractive for cash-strapped local governments.

Yagi is also expected to step down as vice chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation, a business lobby based in the region, while Iwane is likely to give up his chairmanship at the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, an industry body, the sources said.

Both Yagi and Iwane declined to leave their posts after the scandal came to light late last month, but have apparently changed their minds amid harsh criticism.

Among possible candidates to succeed Iwane are Executive Vice Presidents Takashi Morimoto and Toyokazu Misono, according to the sources.

Iwane assumed the Kansai Electric presidency in 2016, succeeding Yagi.

Meanwhile, a former Kepco executive admitted on Tuesday having received a gift worth several hundred thousand yen in the mid-1990s from Moriyama, indicating that the scandal seems likely to date back earlier than the company’s investigations have so far uncovered.

The former executive received the gift when he transferred to Fukui. After returning it several months later, the former official said the influential local figure responded by repeatedly calling in the executive in response, using angry and threatening language.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5