• Kyodo

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Former farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa pleaded not guilty Tuesday to receiving bribes from an egg production company while in office, in the first hearing of his trial at the Tokyo District Court.

Yoshikawa, 70, is accused of accepting a total of ¥5 million from a former representative of Akita Foods Co. between November 2018 and August 2019, when he was agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, even though he was aware of the company head's intention to seek favors, according to the indictment.

In the hearing, the former minister admitted to receiving the cash but claimed that he had taken it as a "political donation." He stepped down as a lawmaker in December last year.

Yoshiki Akita, 87, the former representative of the egg production company based in Hiroshima Prefecture, admitted to bribing Yoshikawa at the first hearing of his trial in June.

Prosecutors pointed out during Akita's trial that former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, 58, introduced Akita to Yoshikawa as the company head tried to strengthen his ties with politicians for the purposes of lobbying.

In June, Kawai was given a three-year prison term over vote buying for his wife Anri Kawai in her constituency in Hiroshima Prefecture during the 2019 House of Councilors election.

Katsuyuki Kawai, who had been elected to the House of Representatives from the prefecture but quit as a lawmaker in April, has appealed the ruling.

According to the indictment against Yoshikawa, the former minister was aware of Akita's intention to seek favors for the egg industry over animal welfare standards but still accepted money from the company head on three occasions, at a Tokyo hotel and at the minister's office.

Akita, who served as an industry body executive, lobbied lawmakers and farm ministry officials to ease strict international animal welfare standards and expand a government program to cover farmers' losses in the event that egg prices fell sharply.

A report submitted to the farm ministry on June 3 by a third-party body concluded that the ministry's policies on poultry farming and egg production were not altered improperly due to the alleged bribery.

At the same time, the report found that Yoshikawa tried to exercise his influence on the issue by giving instructions and orders to staff in related sections of the ministry.

The bribery case emerged after prosecutors discovered documents during a search of Akita Foods last year in connection with Kawai's vote buying case.

Earlier this year, the farm ministry punished six senior officials including the top bureaucrat for accepting expensive meals from Akita Foods.

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