Thirty years have passed since former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was arrested July 27, 1976, on suspicion of having received a bribe of 500 million yen that originated from Lockheed Corp., an American aircraft manufacturer. The Lockheed affair, in which 15 people were indicted, became the largest postwar bribery scandals to implicate political and business leaders.
The scandal surfaced as Japan was riding the crest of a wave of high economic growth. The scandal was a product of the money-powered politics that prevailed in those years. It was characterized by pork-barrel spending and collusion among politicians, bureaucrats and business enterprises.
Over the past three decades, Japan’s politics has gone through changes — especially in the last five years since Mr. Junichiro Koizumi became prime minister. Mr. Koizumi’s reform politics pushed deregulation and reduced public-works projects, thus weakening collusive relationships among politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders. He also concentrated a large portion of the power held by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the hands of the prime minister, thereby reducing the roles played by intraparty factions, the erstwhile hotbeds of money politics.
A bribery scandal of the size and type of the Lockheed affair might seem impossible in the current political environment. The last bribery case involving a Diet member occurred in 2002 when Mr. Muneo Suzuki, a powerful LDP Diet member at the time, was arrested. But Mr. Koizumi’s deregulation policy, especially with regard to the stock market, has led to new types of crime aimed at outwitting market regulations.
Recent examples are the cases of Mr. Takafumi Horie, the founder of the Internet service provider Livedoor Co., and Mr. Yoshiaki Murakami, the maverick head of the Murakami investment fund. Crimes in connection with which both have been arrested should be regarded as byproducts of Mr. Koizumi’s reform politics.
The nature of the Lockheed affair is completely different from that of Livedoor and the Murakami fund. The questionable money that changed hands in the Lockheed affair was used to buy political influence for business purposes, while the core of the Livedoor and Murakami cases involves speculative profits gained in violation of market rules. The common denominator of these cases, though, is that they clearly carry the imprint of the political culture prevalent at the time of their occurrence.
The Lockheed affair occurred during the years of pork-barrel politics, when the main role of politicians was to bring back tax money collected by the central government to their constituencies, especially in the form of public works and subsidies. The system enabled politicians to squeeze contributions from business enterprises that benefited from the exercise of their political influence. Such “contributions” were in turn used to finance political activities, which included running intraparty factions and financially helping faction members.
By bringing home the tax money, politicians may have helped to reduce the economic gap between urban and rural areas. Money was a prime mover in the system that operated and Tanaka was at the apex of this system.
The Lockheed affair, Tanaka was charged with having received 500 million yen in installments in 1973 and 1974 from Marubeni Corp., a sales agent for Lockheed, which wanted Tanaka to persuade All Nippon Airways to purchase Lockheed L-1011 TriStar jetliners. Marubeni’s approach to Tanaka was part of a larger scheme in which Lockheed was trying to sell the same type of jetliners to various airline companies outside the United States. All Nippon Airways, which was about to order McDonnell Douglas’ DC-10s, switched to L-1011 TriStars.
Before his arrest and after his money-centered political activities were exposed, Tanaka resigned as prime minister Dec. 9, 1974. Even after his resignation, he ruled a large faction behind the scenes. His strategic goal was to control a majority of LDP Lower House members to the extent that they could exert sufficient influence to elect a prime minister.
Tanaka’s way of calling the shots earned him the nickname “Yami Shogun (one who wields power secretly).” He was convicted by the Tokyo district and high courts and sentenced to four years in prison. He died Dec. 16, 1993, while his appeal was pending before the Supreme Court. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, Tanaka’s arrested secretary told prosecutors that the 500 million yen was used in distributing 20 million yen each to 26 candidates in the 1974 Upper House election.
The Lockheed affair underscored the need to deal, once and for all, with the problem of money and politicians. That lesson has yet to be seriously learned. Further efforts must ensure greater transparency in the flow of political funds.
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