I've been prefacing my prediction that the refueling extension bill will be passed with the words "barring unforeseen circumstances", or something of the sort. Those are part weasel words of someone who's been wrong too often, but also part truth. In politics, unforeseen circumstances do happen, with uncommon frequency. Here, I am thinking, Edmund Muskie's “tears”, Gary Hart-Donna Rice, Prime Minister Uno and the geisha girl, George Allen's macaca moment, ad infinitum.
And then, you have Takemasa Moriya.
Revelations of political financing irregularities that dogged the Abe administration (and the DPJ) continued under the Fukuda adminstration, and Yoichi Masuzoe, the Health, Labor and Welfare Minister and other LDP worthies have had their share of verbal gaffes in the new administration. But the media has been more or less willing to hand out mulligans to the media-friendly Prime Minister. But there is a good chance that this will end with the latest scandal to break out.
The DPJ had been pushing in the Diet to summon as a witness Takemasa Moriya, the previous Administrative Vice Minister at the Ministry of Defense, who had been the head of the MOD bureau responsible for the refueling operations when the 800,000-200,000 gallon accounting error occurred. The LDP had resisted, claiming that it was not the custom of the Diet to summon private citizens. For one, the LDP must be afraid of the spill over to another ongoing struggle, where the DPJ has also been trying to haul in Fujio Mitarai, head of Keidanren, for questioning on labor practices irregularities at his firm Canon.
But on Friday the deluge struck, as the media jumped all over Mr. Moriya with accusations of enjoying over a hundred all-expenses-paid golf and dinner outings courtesy of Yamada Yōkō, a mid-major MOD supplier, by way of a senior executive there. News reports add that his wife accompanied him on some of these excursions, and they signed in using aliases on at least some occasions. If true, all this would have served as grounds for severe punishment under Ministry rules. Although there is no way to formally punish him, barring criminal charges, the opposition is beside itself with joy. The fractious DPJ in particular has been handed an excellent sideshow in which to rake the MOD over the coals and take the public’s eyes off their own lack of agreement on a viable alternative. This not only calls into question the reliability of the executor of the refueling but also casts a pall of scandal on the defense establishment and more specifically the LDP-New Komeitō coalition government. Predictable calls from an unnamed LDP sources are suggesting that it might be wiser to shut the Diet down as scheduled and put the bill forward in the regular Diet session.
This should not have come as a total surprise to the LDP. Mr. Moriya had been asked about his relations with the executive at the press conference he held when he retired. He gave an evasive answer that sounded very much like playing for time until he could disappear from the scene. But it appears that the LDP had not prepared themselves for this contingency. Still, the LDP could throw him under the bus, and wait it out until the two months are up. Evading the Diet on the scandal now makes the Fukuda administration only makes it look even more guilty by association, raises questions of leadership, and calls into question the importance of the refueling operations. It’s not as if Mr. Moriya will conveniently take himself out in the meantime.
But the story could be bigger than the moral degeneracy of a wayward bureaucrat. Sankei has the best backstory on the scandal. According to the article, the former senior executive had been responsible for handling MOD and politicians. He left Yamada Yōkō with a few dozen colleagues to form his own company Nihon Mirise, which quickly became a formidable competitor to Yamada Yōkō. Ymada Yōkō is suing its former employees for 1.5 billion yen in damages, and Sankei believes that the Prosecutors Office is also questioning senior executives at both companies for accounting irregularities at Yamada Yōkō while the former executive worked there. For someone who may be under criminal suspicion, the former executive seems to be talking freely to anyone who comes asking. I assume that the DPJ will try to use this controversy to discredit the entire defense establishment.
Now all this is not directly linked to the refueling operations, and it does not have any of the makings of another Lockheed bribery scandal. But the plurality public support for the refueling operations is, like its majority/plurality support for constitutional amendment, lukewarm, and lacks the compelling power of domestic pocketbook issues. I'm not ready (vicariously) to throw in the towel yet, but the air of inevitability is definitely gone.
Quote of the day:
鳩山由紀夫「法案の形で[党独自のアフガン対策を]法案の形で作り上げたいが、(守屋氏の)疑惑を最優先にしていかなければならなくなった」(Yomiuri, 20 October; assuming, of course, that he actually said that)
“We would like to put [DPJ’s own proposal for Afghanistan] in the form of a bill, but we have been forced to make suspicions over (Mr. Moriya) our top priority.”
-Yukio Hatoyama, DPJ Secretary-General