• Kyodo

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The government on Monday ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. to improve its business operations following a bribery scandal involving the former deputy mayor of a town hosting one of its nuclear plants.

Taizo Takahashi, head of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, summoned Kansai Electric President Takashi Morimoto to announce the administrative slap on the wrist and directed the implementation of measures to prevent a recurrence.

“We take this seriously and will make utmost efforts to implement reforms in the hopes of regaining public trust,” Morimoto told reporters.

The utility has been under fire since it came to light that Eiji Moriyama, a former deputy mayor of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, who died in March 2019, had bribed Kansai Electric executives in exchange for giving work to a construction company with which he was connected.

A third-party investigation into the scandal found that 75 people had received a total of some ¥360 million in cash and gifts, including clothing vouchers and sumo tickets.

The executives said they could not reject the bribes for fear of retribution, both against the utility and themselves — the former deputy mayor held strong influence in the local community and had been instrumental in quelling opposition to the addition of two new reactors at the Takahama plant.

The bribes began in 1987, immediately after Moriyama retired from office, and continued for more than three decades until they were discovered in a tax audit.

Morimoto was named president of Kansai Electric over the weekend after his predecessor stepped down to take responsibility for the scandal. The utility has said it will draw up preventative measures by the end of June.

“I’m determined to face up to any difficulty,” Morimoto said at a news conference.

Kansai Electric said six board members including Morimoto will return 20 percent of their remuneration for three months.

“I failed to handle it as top executive. It’s my deepest regret that I wasn’t able to report (the incident) at a board meeting,” former Kansai Electric President Shigeki Iwane said at the news conference.

The independent panel that investigated the scandal handed its final report to Kansai Electric on Saturday after interviewing current and executives and other employees at the Osaka-based utility since October.

Former Prosecutor General Keiichi Tadaki, the head of the panel, said filing a criminal complaint would be difficult given that Moriyama has died and there is no firm evidence.

He also said Kansai Electric is not a victim and its policy on building nuclear plants “will not be sustainable unless there is transparency.”

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