Japan Lawmaker Kills Self Amid Probe
Japan’s widening scandal of bribes paid by brokerages and banks to bureaucrats and politicians spread to parliament Thursday, when lawmaker Shokei Arai committed suicide rather than face arrest.
Arai, 50, was found hanged in a Tokyo hotel room as parliament prepared to vote to approve his arrest on charges of pressuring a brokerage to pay him illegal profits.
Arai had publicly admitted receiving $325,000 since October 1995 in profits supplied by Nikko Securities Co. to an account he set up with the firm under a friend’s name. But he insisted to the end that those profits came from normal stock dealings and that he had never asked Nikko to illegally guarantee him profits on the account.
Under Japanese law, it is illegal for brokerages to manipulate their books to compensate clients for trading losses or otherwise transfer profits to benefit VIP clients.
Such practices once were legal, however, and many analysts say they still are common.
Police, who labeled the death a suicide, said Arai’s body was discovered by his wife, Mariko. Arai hanged himself with a bathrobe belt, Fuji Television reported. Parliament was about to approve his arrest, waiving the immunity normally afforded members.
Arai is the latest of several people caught up in a still-spiraling string of interrelated corruption scandals who have found a way out through suicide, the ancient samurai way to take responsibility for failure, escape shame or seek an honorable exit from a bad situation.
The wave of scandals was triggered in part by the arrest last year of alleged racketeer Ryuichi Koike, who allegedly succeeded in extorting payments from Japan’s four biggest brokerages--one of which has since gone bankrupt--and some banks. Documents gathered in raids to collect evidence for that case have led investigators to other alleged cases of bribery, widening the scandal.
Arai claimed that many Japanese politicians and others among the country’s elite had committed acts similar to his.
“There are hundreds of people who are doing the same thing,” Arai declared in parliament Wednesday, according to the Daily Yomiuri newspaper. “Prosecutors have singled me out because they are under pressure to implicate politicians.”
Later that day, Arai held a news conference during which he reiterated his innocence and may have foreshadowed his death.
“There will be no occasion for me to meet with you in the future,” Arai told the assembled reporters. “What I say at this news conference are the last words of my political life.”
His comments at the time were interpreted to mean that his political career was over.
Arai’s death follows the Jan. 28 suicide of Finance Ministry Banking Bureau official Yoichi Otsuki, 54, shortly before he was due to be questioned by police in a bribery investigation that had already led to the arrests of two ministry inspectors and the resignation of Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka. Otsuki hanged himself with a rope at his home, police said.
Documents seized in the Koike investigation helped prosecutors uncover cases of alleged bribery of Finance Ministry officials by banks and brokerages through extravagant meals, golf outings and other entertainment costing tens of thousands of dollars.
On Jan. 29, Kazuo Yoshida, 64, president of Road Facility Service, an affiliate of the Japan Highway Public Corp., hanged himself in his bedroom after investigators searched his company in connection with the alleged acceptance of bribes from Nomura Securities Co. by an official of Japan Highway. He left a note to his wife proclaiming his innocence in the scandal.
Nomura, Japan’s biggest brokerage, was involved in the scandal revolving around racketeer Koike.
Last June, former Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Chairman Kuniji Miyazaki committed suicide in his Tokyo home after becoming a target of the Koike investigation. Koike allegedly used money from the bank to buy shares in the “Big Four” brokerages to position himself to extort more money from them by threatening to disrupt stockholders meetings.
The Nikko officials from whom Arai allegedly demanded guarantees of profits, including former Managing Director Hiroyuki Hamahira, have already been arrested in connection with the Koike case.
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