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Pickens Ducks Greenmail Question : Japan: The American investor countercharges that Koito Manufacturing is conspiring with Toyota to deny him a seat on the auto parts maker’s board.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

American investor T. Boone Pickens Jr. said Tuesday that he will continue his fight against Japanese “cartels” but declined to answer a charge that he is acting as an agent for a Japanese greenmailer.

Talking with foreign reporters, Pickens said Koito Manufacturing Co.--an auto parts maker in which he owns the largest block of shares, 26%--is colluding with Toyota, its second-largest shareholder, to deny him representation on Koito’s board.

However, Pickens refused to respond to Koito’s charge that he is collaborating with a Japanese who has been accused of trying to harass Koito into buying back Pickens’ shares at an inflated price--a practice known as greenmail.

Asked whether he could say he had no continuing relationship with Kitaro Watanabe, an auto dealer from whom Pickens acquired the shares, he replied:

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“We bought the stock from Mr. Watanabe, and we paid for the stock. That is really as far as I will go on answering those questions because, again, we get back into a private company that I just somehow don’t think it would be to my advantage to talk about.

“We’ve made all the disclosures under Japanese law that are required. So I don’t see any reason to expand beyond what we’ve been required to do.”

Koito has charged that Watanabe twice tried to greenmail Koito before passing his shares to Pickens. In April, Watanabe was fined for failing to report to the Finance Ministry his accumulation of more than 10% of Koito’s stock, as required by law.

Pickens, who with 52 other Americans plans to attend a Koito stockholders meeting Thursday, charged that Toyota was manipulating the price of auto parts bought from Koito to inflate Toyota’s profits at Koito’s expense. Although Koito’s revenue has increased every year for the past three years, he said, its profit has fallen, while Toyota’s has continued to rise.

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“A keiretsu (business group) is a cartel,” Pickens said. “Whatever you call it--a cartel, a trust, a monopoly, a keiretsu or a zaibatsu-- it’s wrong. Any economic system that benefits a few at the expense of many is wrong and will ultimately fail.”

He disclosed that he had received proxies from Japanese who hold nearly 2.3 million shares of Koito stock. The proxies, he said, represent only 1.4% of the shares outstanding but 57% of the estimated number of small Japanese shareholders in Koito.

“This is clear evidence that the average Japanese investor is dissatisfied with the keiretsu system in Japan,” Pickens said. “Many of the proxy cards we have received say that ‘Toyota’s piracy has to stop.’ ”

He said he is “not deterred by the stonewalling tactics of Koito and Toyota” and added that he intends to come back for the Koito stockholders meeting “next year and again the following year.”

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Pickens also said he intends to raise his holdings in Koito soon--to at least a third of the total.

He said top executives of Koito and Toyota, as well as leaders of the powerful Federation of Economic Organizations, have refused to meet with him. However, he said, Koito has agreed to let him tour its plant Friday.


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