JPRI Working Paper No. 86, June 2002
Corruption and Bribery in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:  The Case of Muneo Suzuki
by Axel Berkofsky

While bureaucrats from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were busy misusing public funds and taxpayers’ money and Makiko Tanaka, Prime Minister Koizumi’s newly appointed Foreign Minister, was trying to get a handle on the mess, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Dietman Muneo Suzuki was actually managing Japan’s foreign affairs. News about bureaucrats from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) facing criminal charges is still hitting the headlines of the Japanese press on an almost daily basis. But it now seems that the real scandal revolves around how one Diet member and his friends and allies within the ministry manipulated MOFA’s policies and extended their influence over Japan’s foreign affairs to a degree amazing even by Japanese standards.
The list of Suzuki’s interventions in Japan’s foreign affairs already seems endless and more news on his illegal activities may be forthcoming since, on this subject at least, Japan’s newspapers seem to have rediscovered investigative journalism. Until recently, the Japanese press merely printed what their journalists had been fed by politicians and bureaucrats during press conferences or press club meetings. Irregularities and scandals in the ministries very often made it into print only when the LDP powerbrokers agreed that sacrificing the careers of a few bureaucrats had become inevitable. The fact that Suzuki’s criminal activities went on for almost a decade shows that keeping information behind locked doors as well as the system of bribery and corruption within MOFA functioned pretty efficiently and will likely continue to do so.  
“Can we entrust the nation’s foreign policy to the Foreign Ministry,” asked a lawmaker from an opposition party during a question-and-answer session at the Lower House Budget Committee on March 12, 2002, dealing with Suzuki’s illegal activities. Now that it is no longer career-threatening to contradict Muneo Suzuki or refuse to support his illegal activities, a number of MOFA bureaucrats are stepping forward to complain about constantly being under pressure not only from him but also from other LDP politicians.
“Even if politicians apply pressure to us, we do not say there was pressure. We have responded to their demands, explaining that we made the decisions based on our own judgment,” said a high-ranking MOFA official, indicating that Muneo Suzuki was by no means the only one manipulating Japan’s foreign affairs. A lot of LDP politicians claimed to be “surprised” and “shocked” by the Suzuki revelations, even though it is hard to believe that the party’s leading politicians, including the prime minister himself, were as unaware of Suzuki’s influence over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as they have tried to pretend over recent months.
On May 15, 2002, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office Special Investigation Department arrested Masaru Sato, former senior analyst in MOFA’s Intelligence and Analysis Bureau and a veteran Russian specialist, who had strong personal ties to Suzuki. He was arrested on charges of having misused  33.49 million yen in funds belonging to the Cooperation Committee. This committee, based on an agreement among Japan, Russia, and other former Soviet republics, had been set up in 1993 as an official MOFA organ through which Tokyo would provide the countries with economic aid. Prosecutors also questioned Kazuhiko Togo, chief of the European Affairs Bureau from August 1999 to May 2001 and another one of Suzuki’s close allies in MOFA, who assisted him in manipulating Japanese-Russian relations throughout the 1990s. Togo was evidently in charge of disbursing the funds of the Cooperation Committee, mainly into his and his friends’ pockets. He was serving as ambassador to the Netherlands when he was recalled to Tokyo in April and dismissed from the ministry. However, all distributions from the committee required Suzuki’s approval.
The Cooperation Committee also provided funds for construction of a controversial residential facility on Kunashiri Island, one of the four islands adjacent to Hokkaido known as the “Northern Territories” that Japan claims but that have been occupied by Russia since the end of World War II. The Kunashiri Guest House is officially named the “House of Friendship” but is known by the islanders and all those involved with Russian affairs within MOFA as “Muneo House.” Sato and Togo also used the Cooperation Committee funds to send a large delegation of ministerial officials on a junket to Israel, allegedly to attend a conference on Russian affairs.
MOFA, in its first public statement, called Sato’s and Togo’s meddling with  funds a “personal crime” and appeared unwilling to admit that it is clearly another case of structural corruption within the ministry involving high-ranking officials who have the authority to use public funds for whatever they want. Before the Sato and Togo scandals became public, at least six different cases of embezzlement or abuse-of-funds cases had wracked the foreign ministry  and strengthened Minister Tanaka’s reform efforts. The scandals included colluding with foreign hotels to pad bills for diplomats, including kickbacks to the diplomats and the hotels; bill-padding in the rental of limousines for the G8 summit meeting in Okinawa during the summer of 2000; corrupt use of public funds by the Japanese consul general in Denver to purchase art for his private use; padding accounts by another official to buy a condo and some racehorses; and the use of off-the-books slush-funds for lavish parties, payments to mistresses, and secret transfers to the Chief Cabinet Secretary, who used the Foreign Ministry’s intelligence budget for various purposes, including bribing opposition lawmakers.
In virtually all of these cases, senior MOFA officials contended that the officials charged were “non-career” diplomats who had been placed in their positions of responsibility because they had “accounting” abilities or, if they had passed the highly exclusive test to become a careerMOFA official, they had committed crimes for purely personal motives. They denied the press’s accusations that the whole ministry was structurally corrupt. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a long history of maintaining and misusing secret funds, and many observers concluded that what had changed was not the degree of honesty of MOFA officials but the appointment of a minister of foreign affairs who did not go along with the “old boy” networks and the culture of secrecy that prevailed there. 
The Japanese public has seemed only marginally interested in the scandals involving MOFA bureaucrats and politicians, perhaps because they have seen too many similar scandals in the past. The system of corruption and back-door policies is still deeply embedded in Japanese politics. Indeed, Suzuki himself seems to be on his way towards political rehabilitation and, at least for now, will be able to hang on to his Diet seat after the House of Representatives Steering Committee on May 15 rejected the opposition’s  request for a non-binding motion demanding his  resignation  from the Diet. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the New Conservative Party both voted against the motion while the New Komeito, also part of the coalition bloc, supported the opposition. It was the second time that the committee has dismissed the opposition’s request for Suzuki’s resignation.
In March, when a similar call for Suzuki’s resignation was voted down, political commentators suspected that former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka was responsible. Nonaka has always had strong ties to Suzuki. He was also mainly responsible for putting lame-duck and completely incompetent Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori into office in 2000. Despite his withdrawal from the front lines of LDP politics, Nonaka is still believed to be the most influential politician within the LDP.  Steering Committee chairman Kunio Hatoyama made the final decision, breaking a 12-12 tie vote while saying that “The status of a lawmaker is guaranteed under the Constitution.” Although Suzuki resigned from the Liberal Democratic Party in March 2002, he is not likely to leave politics so long as his constituency continues to vote for him and he does not go to prison.
The Role of Makiko Tanaka
Makiko Tanaka was named the country’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 2001. At age 57, she had been an LDP Diet member since her 1993 election from Niigata’s Fifth District, adjacent to the one in which her famous father, former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, got his start. Almost from the moment she arrived at her office in Kasumigaseki, Japan’s press featured daily headlines on her diplomatic and verbal gaffes. A female boss and one with strong opinions was never really welcomed by the mostly male bureaucrats at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is certainly far from being an equal opportunity employer. Women in the ministry are still mainly assigned to supporting and assistants’ jobs, which in many cases translates into photo-copying, serving tea, and answering telephone calls for their male superiors. Makiko Tanaka challenged Japanese-style domestic politics and diplomacy in every possible way and was certainly the most undiplomatic diplomat the country has ever had.  Ironically, however, despite the harsh criticism of her style, Tanaka stood for what Japan has been desperately trying to become over the past decade: more self-confident in foreign and security policy and less dependent on American defense deployments in East Asia.  
Tanaka took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs promising to get rid of the sleaze and corruption within her ministry and it took her only a few months in office to turn almost everybody in the government and her ministry against her. She made it clear from the very beginning that her first priority was to reform the Foreign Ministry’s personnel and accounting policies, which seemed to become more pressing when, in the second half of 2001, the Japanese press began to report corruption scandals involving MOFA’s bureaucrats on a daily basis. The officials’ free-spending habits were clearly threatened by Tanaka’s plans; and officials very quickly started feeding chosen Japanese journalists with spectacular Tanaka quotes and other interesting details about what seemed to be a typical day in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, the press reported that she refused to receive visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage shortly after she took office because she was in “a state of panic” (instead of the more likely reason that he was not her proper counterpart). Richard Armitage was reportedly “strongly irritated” and had to return home without having been able to dictate another round of Japan’s foreign policy. The conservative and U.S.-loyal Yomiuri Shimbun put itself in the forefront of denouncing Tanaka’s critical remarks on the U.S. missile defense program and the Okinawa base issue, and her urging that Japan’s relations with China be improved. Prime minister Koizumi sent Tanaka to Washington in June 2001, with orders to “correct” her views on American missile defense and the U.S.-Japan alliance. Tanaka obeyed this time and stuck to the standard Japanese line when meeting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush.
LDP Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, an ambitious, eloquent, and influential power broker behind the scenes, was Tanaka’s number one enemy and got first-hand information from MOFA bureaucrats on foreign policy issues before Tanaka did. Throughout 2001, he repeatedly blocked personnel transfers within the ministry ordered by Tanaka. Given that he is the son of the late former prime minister Takeo Fukuda and that Tanaka is the daughter of Kakuei Tanaka, press insiders speculated that the Tanaka-Fukuda wars (Kaku-fuku senso) of their fathers had been rejoined.
Fukuda’s backdoor deals and his influence made the Japanese press suspect that he was the “real” Foreign Minister before it became clear that it was Muneo Suzuki who pulled the strings in the ministry.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, however, it was Prime Minister Koizumi who decided that Tanaka should not be allowed to spoil Japan’s efforts to be on the forefront and alongside the U.S. in fighting global terrorism. He excluded Tanaka from the foreign policy decision-making process during the crucial phase of discussions on the scale and quality of Japanese support for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in October and November 2001. Director General of the Japanese Defense Agency Gen Nakatani took over, did the talking with the U.S., and made sure that Japanese ships and troops were dispatched towards the Indian Ocean in November 2001 to provide logistical support for U.S. troops.
On January 29, 2002, Koizumi fired Tanaka over controversies involving herself, Administrative Vice Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami, andMuneo Suzuki regarding the banning of two Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from attending the December 11, 2001, Tokyo conference on reconstruction aid for Afghanistan. The NGOs had been critical of the Japanese government. Tanaka invited them but Suzuki secretly vetoed their attendance. However, sacking Makiko Tanaka not only backfired badly for Koizumi, causing his popularity rate among the Japanese public to slip from 90% when he took office in April 2001 to under 40% in March 2002; it was also the starting point of revelations that Muneo Suzuki practically ran the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs throughout the second half of the 1990s.
The NGO affair started when Foreign Ministry officials notified Suzuki about a newspaper article in which Kensuke Onishi, a representative of the NGO “Peace Winds Japan” wrote that he put little faith in what the Japanese government said about helping Afghanistan. Suzuki thereupon instructed his MOFA allies to exclude the NGO (plus another one named “Platform Japan” that had been active in Afghanistan) from the conference. The then Middle East and African Affairs Bureau Director General Toshinori Shigeie telephoned Onishi to say that MOFA disapproved of his remarks. The conference started on December 11 without the two Japanese NGOs. Foreign Minister Tanaka, however, insisted that they be allowed to participate on the second day of the conference.
Tanaka was furious when she discovered that Administrative Vice Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami had apparently received his instructionsfrom Suzuki to ban the NGOs and had done so without informing her. Each began accusing the other of lying about Suzuki’s role and influence within MOFA. The prime minister eventually intervened, and on January 29, claiming that he did not know whom to believe, sacked both Tanaka and Nogami and forced Suzuki to resign his post as chairman of the  Lower House’s Steering Committee.
Suzuki was used to having his way, even when he was in the wrong. At a joint foreign affairs meeting that took place at Liberal Democratic Party  headquarters on December 6, 2001, Suzuki, then also chairman of the Lower House Rules and Administration Committee, opposed paying for the Afghan rebuilding conference, saying that “overseas development assistance (ODA) is for overseas projects. It is absurd to spend ODA on a conference in Japan.” In another interview in the Asahi Shimbun, Suzuki came up with an equally contentious remark on NGOs claiming that “It is dangerous to be in close touch with NGOs in Afghanistan because there are still Taliban fighters taking hostages there” and then added that “Not toeing the government line is a way of finding fame for some NGOs.”
To make sure that the NGOs would know who was behind their suspension from the conference, Suzuki took personal care of the matter. Kensuke Onishi, the representative of Peace Winds Japan, disclosed that Suzuki had summoned him and other members on four occasions, notifying them of his intention to suspend funding to the group. MOFA originally planned to disburse sixteen million yen from ODA as travel expenses for twenty-seven Afghan non-governmental organizations attending the Tokyo conference on December 11. Japan paid no travel reimbursements at all after Suzuki stepped in.
Given Suzuki’s own business interests and his eagerness to secure government funding for construction projects in Hokkaido and on the islands of the Northern Territories, it became obvious why he wanted MOFA’s  collaboration with the NGOs to end. He preferred that the funds involved be distributed to “his” pet projects in Hokkaido.
Who Is Muneo Suzuki?
Muneo Suzuki was born January 31, 1948, into a poor farming family in Kushiro in northern Hokkaido. He likes to tell the story, often with tears in his eyes, that his father sold his only horse to enable Muneo to study at Tokyo University. Suzuki knows, of course, that anecdotes about a difficult and hard-working youth sell extremely well in Japan and that supporters in his constituency back in Hokkaido usually referred to him as “one of us.” 
Suzuki did not quite make it to Tokyo University, however, and studied instead at Takushoku University in Tokyo. He started out in politics as secretary to the late Lower House member Ichiro Nakagawa, an influential LDP politician who had served as Agriculture Minister (in theFukuda cabinet) and also as Science and Technology Agency chief. Both Suzuki and Nakagawa came from Hokkaido, and Nakagawa was an expert on Soviet affairs. He also had a constituency that included a large number of voters in exile from the northern territories. Because he accompanied Nakagawa on his frequent visits to Tokyo and to MOFA, Suzuki gained early access to the Foreign Ministry. Elected for the first time to the Lower House in 1983 from the Hokkaido Fifth District, Suzuki did not at once join a faction but instead cultivated the corrupt LDP-kingmaker Shin Kanemaru. He and Koichi Hamada, another independent in the LDP, acted as Kanemaru’s bodyguards and often served as Diet hecklers during Kanemaru’s tenure as LDP Secretary General. Suzuki joined the Obuchi faction (currently the Hashimoto faction) in 1993 when other  LDP members from Hokkaido opted to join Shinseito (Japan Renewal Party) after the LDP broke up. In recent years, Suzuki has been extremely close to former secretary general Nonaka.
Throughout his political career Suzuki has held a number of important posts, including director of the Lower House Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems, parliamentary vice-minister for Foreign Affairs, director general of the Hokkaido and Okinawa Development Agency, Chief Cabinet Secretary, and eventually chairman of the Lower House Steering Committee. Like many Japanese politicians—including the famous Kakuei Tanaka—one of his chief methods of raising money for himself involved the construction industry.
In February 2002, it was revealed that throughout the 1990s Suzuki had put pressure on a number of MOFA officials to restrict bidders on ministry projects in Hokkaido and the Northern Territories to construction firms located in his constituency of Nemuro. The most infamous example was the so-called Friendship House project (now dubbed Muneo House) for which the consulting firm and general contractors were found to have had frequent contacts with Suzuki’s Tokyo office. The Tokyo-based consulting firm obtained detailed information on the planned bid price for the facility, and Suzuki himself changed the bid participation qualifications in order to secure the contract for the companies of his choice.
At the end of the 1990s, in order to promote his own business interests in the Northern Territories and keep the kickbacks from construction firms flowing into his pockets, Suzuki and his MOFA accomplices decided to ignore the official government line regarding the return of the so-called Northern territories—i.e., the four Japanese islands off Hokkaido occupied by Russia at the end of World War II. The official position of the Japanese government is that the return of all four islands is Japan’s primary objective in Japanese-Russian relations, whereas Suzuki has repeatedly claimed that  Japan would not really benefit from the return of all the islands. When Russia’s president Vladimir Putinvisited Tokyo in September 2000, then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Kazuhiko Togo (then director of the European and Oceanic Affairs Bureau), and Suzuki himself reportedly “agreed” with the Russian president upon a “return of two islands first”-policy. Instead of following the official Japanese government line insisting on the return of all four islands together, Suzuki, his MOFA aides, and Russian officials decided to concentrate on the return of the Habomais and Shikotan, leaving the return of Kunashiri and Etorofu (which are closer to Russia) until later.
The Japanese government and MOFA at first professed themselves to be shocked by Suzuki’s plans, although MOFA officials have since admitted that the so-called “parallel negotiations” approach to the Northern Territories issue was part of official government policy long before Suzuki took a hand in Japanese-Russian relations. According to MOFA officials Suzuki was only making sure that these “secret” government policies were implemented. Suzuki and Togo were eager to settle the territorial issues with Russia as soon as possible because former Prime Minister Obuchi told them in private that the fiscal 1999 budget for aid projects on the islands would be significantly higher than the 1998 budget if a compromise with the Russian government could be achieved. The compromise Suzuki and Togo had in mind was the return of at least two islands. On March 8, 2002, in an attempt to justify his involvement in the affair, Togo said that, “If the northern territories are returned, one trillion yen will move for the consolidation of infrastructure in the territories.” 
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the whole affair is that MOFA bureaucrats for a long time seemed to see nothing wrong with  Suzuki’s calling the shots in Japanese-Russian relations. Until March a number of the bureaucrats repeatedly praised Suzuki’s role, claiming that he “did a great deal to improve Japanese-Russian relations.” And despite Suzuki’s own pecuniary interest in ignoring his government’s policies, MOFA officials do seem to have a point. Suzuki’s approach seems in fact to have been more pragmatic. The Russiangovernment reportedly complained at the beginning of 2002 that Russian-Japanese relations had worsened since “parallel negotiations” were abandoned. Speaking at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow in March, Alexander Losyukov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, said he was “Pessimistic about the current state of Russia-Japan relations,” adding that Suzuki was “a man who expressed his willingness to improve Russia-Japan relations, although he was a difficult man to deal with.”
When it came to defending his own business interests and keeping the Russian government happy, Suzuki did not hesitate to use physical violence. In May 1996, then serving as director of the Lower House Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems, Suzuki visited Kunashiri island and hit a young Japanese MOFA official in the face when he refused to plant a cherry tree. Planting the tree, the MOFA official believed, could be interpreted as Japan’s renouncing its sovereignty over the Northern Territories since Russian officials had asked for a quarantine certificate for the tree. The MOFA official refused to submit this certificate claiming that it was “Japan’s duty to refuse to ask for permission to plant a cherry tree on Japanese territory.” Suzuki, for his part, reminded him of where his duties really lay, landed his punch, and then apologized to the Russian officials for this incident.  
As has since been revealed, Suzuki also dictated the MOFA’s response to the Chechen conflict. Suzuki pressured MOFA to declare the conflict to be an internal Russian affair and urged Togo not to side with the U.S. and Europe in criticizing Russia for human rights violations. And the National Police Agency (NPA) claims that  Suzuki made regular phone calls to it complaining about the NPA’s surveillance activities of a senior Russian diplomat at the Russian Embassy.
Other Suzuki Projects
In addition to his interest in the Northern Territories, Suzuki also played a role in the construction of the Sondu-Miriu hydroelectric power plant on the Sondu River, which flows into Lake Victoria in the western part of Kenya. The project was begun in the late 1990s, but in 1999 the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and other institutions suspended their assistance to Kenya. Suzuki, eager to see the project continue, traveled to Kenya, met with President Daniel Arap Moi, and promised new yen loans to keep the project alive. One month after Suzuki returned to Japan, Kenya received new loans worth 10.6 billion yen and the construction of the major portion of the hydro-power plant became a joint venture led by the Japanese company Konoike Construction Ltd. Given Suzuki’s talents for securing a piece of the cake for himself, it should not come as a surprise that Konoike Construction was one of his regular donors. Asked later about his involvement in the project, Suzuki denied his role and instead told the Japanese press that he went to Kenya only on MOFA’s instructions to seek support for Japan’s bid for the post of UNESCO secretary general.  
MOFA appeared to support his version when it wrote in a March 2002 report that the Kenya dam project was decided after Kenya and Japan conducted a feasibility study and that “The decision to finance the project did not reflect the desires of Mr. Suzuki.” But by implying that Suzuki’s opinion would normally be considered, the report undermined its credibility. Critics of MOFA deride the entire project as typical of what is wrong with Japan’s foreign aid program—projects are accepted only if a Japanese firm can be found to carry them out (profitably). Many in Africa also complain that the dam in environmentally unsound.
Suzuki was equally active in Japan, and his involvement in MOFA’s construction projects in Hokkaido may eventually lead to criminal charges against him. He also “took care” of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Back in 1992, Suzuki urged JICA to set up a training facility in his home constituency in Hokkaido. The center is used by trainees from central Asian countries in the fields of civil engineering and forestry. In July 1994, JICA held open bidding to select contractors to build the center. A joint venture led by Hagiwara Kensetsu Kogyo won the bidding while another joint venture group led by Sanyo Konetsu won the bid for machinery installations. From 1995 to 2001, Hagiwara donated a total of nearly 10 million yen to Suzuki’s campaign fund, while Sanyo Konetsu contributed 1.62 billion yen over the same period.
In March 2002, it was also revealed that the creative Suzuki had blocked the efforts of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s (DFAA) to control increases in the rents paid to Okinawa landowners renting out land to the U.S. military. DFAA documents as well as donations to Suzuki’s political organization from Okinawan landowners prove Suzuki’s involvement over the last six years. Suzuki himself claims that he was only concerned about representing the interests of landowners and that in order to underline his “altruism,” he personally called the DFAA numerous times urging the agency to give in to the landowners’ request to raise rents by 5%.  The DFAA itself had a 3% raise in mind and eventually Suzuki and the landlords’ association agreed to a raise of 3.5%.
In the year 2000, Suzuki put pressure on LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Kamei, who had suggested a 30% cut in Japanese Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) payments. Since Kamei planned to make MOFA the main target of the cuts, Makiko Tanaka went to Suzuki and personally asked him to use his influence over Kamei. “I will have to depend on you,” she reportedly said to Suzuki, putting to rest her own claims that she was unaware of the extent of Suzuki’s power and influence.  Suzuki, who was then also serving as chairman of the LDP’s Special Committee on Overseas Economic Cooperation, stepped in one more time. He told MOFA officials that the Ministry of Finance (MOF) should shoulder the major ODA cuts, and in the end MOFA managed to negotiate a 3% cut in payments for themselves while the Ministry of Finance’s ODA budget was 22% lower than the previous year.
Despite his efforts to feather his own nest, Suzuki has also supported his allies within the LDP. Over a two-year period from 1997-1999, he contributed a total of 39 million yen to 11 LDP lawmakers, including members of the current Koizumi cabinet, senior vice ministers and parliamentary vice-ministers. Taking this into account, one should not be surprised that members of Koizumi’s cabinet were slow to join the opposition parties in attacking Suzuki, no doubt fearing what names he might come up with when elaborating on his illegal activities.
At the beginning of  March 2002, however, MOFA officials had no choice but to admit that Suzuki practically ran their ministry. They acknowledged publicly for the first time that Suzuki had put pressure on a number of ministry officials to restrict the qualifications for bidders on the building of “Friendship House.” But the ministry saw no Suzuki involvement in the Sondu-Miriu dam (ODA) project in Kenya although it was already known that  the Konoike Corporation, which donated 1.8 million yen to Suzuki over a period of four years, won the first round of construction.
On March 6, knowing that the Japanese media were now hot on the case, MOFA published another report presenting allegations against Suzuki over his unlawful involvement in the construction of a prefabricated clinic (appropriately called Muneo Suzuki Clinic) on Shikotan island. At the end of the 1990s, Suzuki “convinced” then Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to build a clinic on Shikotan. Initially and before Suzuki had a word with him,  Kono was vehemently opposed to building the clinic, claiming that Japan’s very sovereignty was at stake. “Building a permanent structure on the island might encourage the continuation of Russia’s unlawful occupation of the Northern Territories,” he believed. But after a meeting with Suzuki, he changed his mind and gave Suzuki a green light to contact “his” construction companies and begin work as soon as possible.
The LDP, and especially the Hashimoto faction, was very reluctant to summon Suzuki as sworn witness before the Lower House Budget Committee. Hashimoto himself tried to protect Suzuki, claiming that “The act of summoning a politician as a sworn witness is connected with the political fate of the politician. We must be prudent in handling this issue.” Prudence, however, did not come to Suzuki’s rescue and on March 11, 2002, he was summoned to testify as a sworn witness. LDP bigwigs apparently decided that summoning Suzuki would hurt the LDP’s already badly damaged reputation less than opposing the opposition’s call for Suzuki’s testimony. Suzuki was reportedly advised by his remaining allies within the LDP to say as little as possible, answer questions briefly, and throw in an “I don’t remember” here and there.
In fact, the LDP only agreed to call Suzuki as a sworn witness when opposition parties threatened to block the passage of the 2002 budget bill. On the same day that Suzuki was summoned, it was revealed that his former Congolese private secretary, John Muwete Muluaka, was paid 15 million yen in wages over a period of six years by the Shimada Construction Company without doing any work for the company. The construction company turned out to be the same one that was awarded a public works contract for pier repair work on Kunashiri Island in the northern territories.
Wages paid by a private company to a politician’s secretary are generally  regarded as a corporate contribution to a political party. However, Suzuki’s fund-raising organ, the “21st Century Policy Study Association,” did not register Muluaka’s wages, a clear violation of the Japanese Political Funds Control Law. The affair became even more bizarre when it was revealed that Muluaka had been granted permanent residence in Japan in October 2001, even though his diplomatic and normal passports expired in 1994 and 1998 respectively.
On March 13, during another session of sworn testimony before the Diet, Suzuki for the first time admitted pressuring the Foreign Ministry to restrict bids for two construction projects on the Russian-held island of Kunashiri claiming, however, that he was not acting in the interest of any construction companies. On the same day, opposition parties submitted a joint resolution to the Lower House demanding that he should resign as a Diet member. The resolution was eventually blocked by the LDP.
But even the LDP became more active in questioning Suzuki’s involvement in MOFA’s affairs. Back in 1994, the LDP created the PoliticalEthics Hearing Committee, made up of eighteen members: twelve LDP lawmakers, two LDP members not in the Diet, and four persons from the private sector. The committee had never met since it was set up, and it proved to be toothless when the members decided that the time for questioning Suzuki at each session should, for “humanitarian reasons,” not extend beyond two hours. Suzuki took advantage of the time limit, gave hardly any useful answers, and seemed comfortable in the role of the innocent victim. Despite his uncooperative behavior and occasional verbal outbursts, the evidence against him became so striking that the LDP had no choice but to ask Suzuki to leave. On March 16, Suzuki announced to the  Ethics Hearing Committee that he was taking responsibility for the problems he had caused the party and was resigning from it. Even so, he hinted that he was the victim of a conspiracy against him. “I think there is some kind of political motive to evict me or ruin me by one-sidedly using memos from six or seven years ago.”
At the end of March, the newly-appointed foreign minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, went ahead with a MOFA personnel reshuffle announced earlier that month. The director of the Economic Affairs Bureau, Shinichi Kitajima, was appointed deputy vice foreign minister, replacing Kyoji Komachi, who had played a role in the decision to bar the two NGOs from the Afghan rebuilding conference. Hiroyasu Ando, a minister at the embassy in Washington, replaced Toshinori Shigeie as director general of the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau. As mentioned above, former European Affairs Bureau director Kazuhiko Togo was dismissed from his post as ambassador to the Netherlands and on May 15, was arrested by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office Special Investigation Department for possible misappropriation of MOFA funds.
Foreign Minister Kawaguchi further announced the transfers of about ten division directors and mid-level officials who are known for their close ties to Suzuki.  This is still a work in progress and given the number of bureaucrats having an unhealthy relationship with Suzuki, there will probably be more transfers and dismissals in the months to come. Makiko Tanaka, not terribly mindful of her own father’s downfall, commented, “Unfortunately there are many Suzuki-like lawmakers. We, the public, must be aware of the grave responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry senior officials, and LDP leaders who have all tolerated and even fostered Suzuki’s behavior for many years.” However, actually changing the ingrained ways of Japanese politics is likely to stretch well into the future.
AXEL BERKOFSKY has studied political science and modern Japan at the universities of Marburg and Hamburg, and was affiliated with Rikkyo University in Tokyo during 1999-2000. He is currently completing his Ph.D. dissertation on the “U.S.-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation” at Hamburg University. In 2000, he was affiliated with the Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien in Tokyo while conducting his research on Japanese-American military relations. Mr. Berkofsky is a regular contributor to the Asia Times. He is currently based in Florence, Italy, and can be reached at

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