Friday, January 05, 2007

The Media Keeping Busy During the Winter Holidays with Mr. Matsuoka's Office's Indiscretion

To say that Toshikatsu Matsuoka, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is not popular with the Japanese bureaucracy is like saying that the New York Yankees does not have many fans in Boston, or that Moktada al-Sadr is unwelcome in Tikrit, or… but you get the idea. So if I were Shisaku, I would be very, very suspicious about the entire MSM somehow getting hold of an "internal document" from the Cabinet Office and impounded by the police that shows Mr. Matsuoka had been edulous investors may have pretended to believe FAC, but the market did not. FAC failed to maintain its payments, and now faces criminal charges and multiple civil lawsuits. If you think that this looks like a fairly typical Ponzi scheme, I won't disagree with you.

FAC, for purposes I can only guess at, also set up “World Business Expert Forum", a "volunteer" NPO that was apparently in the business of holding seminars. Now, WBEF may have been a non-profit organization, but it was not yet, legally speaking, an NPO. And there must have been some problems with the application, filed with the Cabinet Office, or FAC must have been in a mighty hurry, because it secured the services of a Hirohide Uozumi, an LDP Upper House member, to lobby the Cabinet Office on the WBEF's behalf. To show its appreciation for this and/or other services rendered, to demonstrate its unalloyed affection for the Diet member, or because it was plain stupid, it purchased through the Indian Culture Study Association (don't ask) a set of I-Go board and stones for 20,000,000 Yen. (Note: A very good set will set you back maybe 500,000. The very rich may be willing to shell out 2,000,000-300,000,000.)

Thus, last September, when FAC keeled over and the scandal broke, it was mostly about Mr. Uozumi. Mr. Matsuoka was a peripheral figure, who had neglected to record in his mandatory annual political finances report a 1,000,000 Yen donation from FAC (in the form of party ticket purchases). He did manage to steal the show though, because he was a cabinet member, and the first to cause a negative buzz beyond the usual foot-in-mouth nonsense. A clerical error, surely, though; it did not affect his appointment.

But the world turns, and New Year's Day comes along. Now, between December 28, when we knock off work and go out to get drunk, and January 4, when we crawl back to our office or other places of work, nothing much happens to keep reporters busy except accidents, murders and wardrobe malfunctions. And that is when a lot of why-now stuff makes it onto the politics and business pages during that period. Asahi broke this one first, on its website. Despite Mr. Matsuoka's denials at the time, his secretary had in fact contacted the Cabinet Office regarding the WBEF application, and it was clear that Asahi had access to the document itself.

Ministers come and go, and there is no reason to believe that, barring further disclosures, Mr. Matsuoka will go the way of Genichiro Sada. (Among other things, he is made of sterner stuff.) He himself apparently did not contact the Cabinet Office, and there does not seem to be enough evidence to show that illegal pressure was brought to bear on the Cabinet Office. But it is yet another embarrassment for the Abe administration, which, if truth be told, knew that it was not availing itself of the most delectable of political treats when it included Mr. Matsuoka in its ranks.

And now that I've reached the end of this narrative, at least until the DPJ has the chance to take a few hacks at Mssrs. Abe and Matsuoka when the Diet convenes, let me close with Mr. Abe's response, yesterday, during a reportedly lengthy Q&A with by reporters on his new Year's pilgrimage to the Ise Jingu Shrine. Predictably, he answers in his typically fit-for-Diet-Q&A, technically correct and minimalist response mode:

"I was briefed by Minister Matsuoka that he had never exerted influence or requested the Cabinet Office (to do the favor)," Abe said. "The Cabinet Office also gave me a similar report."

A bureaucrat in a political bind gets an E for evasion. But not the decider. Too bad the DPJ… but I digress.

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xiangjikan said...
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