• Kyodo

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A former head of a major egg producer pleaded guilty to bribing ex-farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa during his first hearing at the Tokyo District Court on Monday.

Yoshiki Akita, 87, provided a total of ¥5 million ($45,200) between November 2018 and August 2019 to the then-farm minister in the hope of inducing favors regarding animal welfare standards, according to the indictment.

At the hearing, prosecutors argued that Akita, who led the Hiroshima Prefecture-based Akita Foods Co., gave cash to Yoshikawa, 70, in hopes the farm ministry would object to the implementation of international animal welfare standards which would have raised the cost of keeping animals.

Akita, who also served as an industry body executive, had lobbied lawmakers and farm ministry officials against Japan’s adoption of strict international animal welfare standards and to expand a government program to cover agriculturalists’ losses when product prices fall.

Prosecutors in January charged Yoshikawa for taking the bribes. They have not taken Akita or Yoshikawa into custody due to health concerns and as they believe they will not destroy evidence nor flee, according to investigative sources.

During voluntary questioning, Yoshikawa admitted to receiving the cash but said he had taken it as a “gift” to celebrate his ministerial appointment, according to the sources.

The third-party probe launched by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has found no evidence of misconduct in the industry administration, but it concluded Yoshikawa “pressured” ministry officials on several occasions to not tighten animal welfare standards.

The case emerged after prosecutors discovered documents indicating bribes had been paid during a search of Akita Foods last year in connection with the high-profile vote-buying case of former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife Anri. The couple, both elected from Hiroshima Prefecture, resigned as lawmakers earlier this year.

Akita also pleaded guilty to buying tickets worth a total of ¥5.34 million in other people’s names for fundraising parties held by Yoshikawa and Katsuyuki Kawai, in violation of the political funds control law.

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