TOKYO -- Japan's leading economic newspaper blew the lid off Tokyo's billion-dollar stock brokerage scandal and threw the government into crisis today by publishing the names of 187 recipients of "compensation" paybacks for losses in last year's stock exchange crash.
The list alleged that some of the biggest names in Japanese business -- including Matsushita, maker of Panasonic, National and Technics brands; Hitachi electric machinery and appliances; Toyota and Nissan car manufacturers; and Marubeni, one of Japan's biggest export houses -- each got tens of millions from one or more of Tokyo's Big Four securities houses.
Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's biggest and most influential economic daily, said that it was unable to identify any politicians among the recipients, but it added that there were "unfamiliar names" that could have been covers for politicians or other public figures.
Fears that the scandal could spread into the political arena have been a key factor in keeping prices depressed and volume low on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for more than a month.
The paybacks came from Nomura Securities, the world's biggest brokerage, and from the other three members of Japan's Big Four -- Yamaichi Securities, Nikko Securities and Daiwa Securities.
The latest disclosure forced the embattled finance minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, to cancel his vacation at the mountain retreat of Karuizawa and to rush back to Tokyo for emergency meetings to decide what to do next.
"How to disclose the names," would be the topic of the meetings, Mr. Hashimoto told Japanese reporters as he prepared to leave Karuizawa.
The Finance Ministry is responsible for supervising the stock market, but Mr. Hashimoto has sought to push responsibility for public disclosure of the names onto the brokerage houses themselves.
At a meeting of a committee of the Diet, Japan's parliament, last week, Mr. Hashimoto outraged opposition politicians by sticking resolutely to that position, saying that the government has an obligation to respect the confidentiality of financial information it receives.
Only yesterday, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu expressed concern that Japan's financial scandals could affect markets everywhere.
"In this day of globalized financial markets," he said in a speech to Diet members of his governing Liberal Democratic Party, "what happens in one financial market has an immediate impact on markets in other countries."
Mr. Hashimoto told that meeting that his ministry expects to prepare by the end of August a set of proposals for the overhaul of its regulatory mechanism, which has long been the subject of ridicule for its lax supervision and its closeness to the industry that it is supposed to oversee.
The ministry is also preparing a bill to make paybacks like those on today's list illegal. Until now, they have been discouraged only by "administrative guidance."