The arrest on Thursday of Mr. Masakuni Murakami, a former Liberal Democratic Party leader in the Upper House and a former labor minister, should have come as no surprise, given the growing suspicions about his role in the bribery scandal involving the KSD small-business mutual-aid foundation. Mr. Murakami is charged with receiving more than 72 million yen in cash for speaking in favor of a KSD project in the Diet.
Just last month, his former right-hand man, Mr. Takao Koyama, himself an LDP Upper House member and former labor vice minister, was also arrested on bribery charges. The arrest of Mr. Murakami in particular — who played a key role in the selection of Mr. Yoshiro Mori as prime minister last April — has delivered a serious additional blow to the already faltering Mori administration.
Appearing before the Upper House Budget Committee last Wednesday, Mr. Murakami passed up the chance to tell the truth, citing a witness’s right not to give self-incriminating evidence. That is regrettable, although there was nothing legally wrong with his refusal to answer sensitive questions. One wonders why the Diet summoned him for testimony in the first place, given that they knew his position was legally tenable.
It appears that the committee was just going through the motions of questioning a culpable politician. What motivated the inquiry, it seems, was partisan calculation designed to take the steam out of the widening corruption scandal. For all the media hoopla, the nationally televised inquiry proved a dud.
Still, according to investigators, it is fairly clear what Mr. Murakami did. In an Upper House plenary session in January 1996, he proposed establishing a technical vocational college at the behest of the then KSD director, Mr. Tadao Koseki; from 1996 to 1998, he had the rent for his campaign office — about 22 million yen — paid by a KSD-affiliated political group; and in the runup to the Lower House election of October 1996, he received 50 million yen in cash from Mr. Koseki.
Later, the KSD plan to create a technical college took off, with many young workers in the small-business sector looking forward to studying there. The vocational institution itself was probably a good idea in light of the widely recognized need to develop skilled workers. Unfortunately, Mr. Murakami and his associates left a big blot on the reputation of that institution.
Public prosecutors showed respect for the Diet by arresting Mr. Murakami the day after his appearance before the committee. Had they apprehended him before the parliamentary inquiry, they would have been publicly criticized for “interfering” with the Diet’s right to investigate. But there were apparently other reasons for their discretion as well. It seems that the arrest was delayed only to avoid offending politicians. A measured approach also seemed preferable in view of the public outrage over a recent leak of police information by a district prosecutor.
Whatever the reasons, public prosecutors should do what they are supposed to do: conduct thorough investigations. Many questions remain unanswered. The first is how the 50 million yen in cash was used. Reports say the money was funneled to the LDP as a political donation and later given to several LDP legislators to help finance their campaigns. Prosecutors must find out who received what benefits from KSD.
Questions also remain about Mr. Murakami’s role in the college project. As the head of a group of some 100 LDP legislators pushing the program, he allegedly lobbied for increased government subsidies. He is also said to have enlisted the support of LDP bigwigs on behalf of then KSD director Koseki. A key question here is whether Mr. Murakami exerted undue influence on the government. Moreover, Mr. Murakami and Mr. Koyama allegedly received between them more than 1.5 billion yen from KSD. Other politicians are also said to have accepted money from the group. The KSD case will not be resolved unless this vast iceberg of unaccounted-for funds is uncovered.
During his committee appearance, Mr. Murakami said that he “will prove his innocence in the court of justice.” Hopefully time, and due process, will tell whether he is really what he says he is. While it is Mr. Murakami the individual who will stand trial, the LDP cannot escape moral responsibility, since Mr. Murakami made his college proposal to the Upper House in his capacity as an LDP representative.
The LDP has been hit by various corruption scandals before, and each time it vowed to sever the shady ties between politics and money. This time it must meet the challenge in all sincerity. The Murakami inquiry in the Diet does not mean that the Diet has completed its investigative mission, nor does it give other politicians involved immunity from responsibility.
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