• Kyodo

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Ex-farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa is suspected of taking cash from a former representative of a major egg production company in Hiroshima Prefecture in return for favors for the egg farming industry, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.

Besides Yoshikawa, the 87-year-old former representative of Akita Foods Co., whose name has not yet been revealed, may have handed cash to other lawmakers with vested interests in the agriculture industry, the sources said.

Tokyo prosecutors appear to be investigating the alleged bribing of Yoshikawa, 70, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives, by questioning officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as Akita Foods, according to the sources.

When asked by Kyodo News about the case, Yoshikawa denied receiving cash. He served as farm minister from October 2018 to September 2019 under then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Yoshikawa, however, said the former representative had purchased party tickets for him, and that the lawmaker kept records in political funds reports.

On Wednesday, Yoshikawa issued a statement apologizing for causing trouble, saying he will resign from all posts he holds in the LDP, including executive acting chairman of the party's election strategy committee.

Daisuke Okada, president of Akita Foods, has denied any knowledge of the matter.

In July, prosecutors searched the company in connection with alleged vote-buying by former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai — who was known for his close ties with Abe and his successor Yoshihide Suga — and Kawai's lawmaker wife, Anri, during her House of Councilors election campaign last year.

According to the sources, the former representative, who served as an executive of an industry body, lobbied lawmakers and farm ministry officials on international standards for animal welfare and a government program to cover farmers' losses when the prices of eggs fall sharply.

In November 2018, those in the industry asked Yoshikawa, then-farm minister, that the government create standards for animal welfare that reflected Japan's situation, the sources said.

As per the farmers' request, Yoshikawa also extended coverage of the government aid scheme to large-scale producers from fiscal 2020, and increased funding for those who had culled chickens to adjust the supply-demand balance, they said.

It was also found that Akita Foods entertained Koya Nishikawa, a former farm minister, and Kazuyoshi Honkawa, a former vice farm minister, on a luxury cruise ship it possesses.

Before becoming agriculture minister, Yoshikawa, who represents a single-seat district in Hokkaido, served as senior vice minister at the farm ministry and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

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