Scandal threatens split in Japan's ruling party Diet faction wants testimony on bribe

October 06, 1992|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa faced an uprising in his own party yesterday with demands that the kingmaker who put him in power be forced to testify under oath in a multimillion-dollar scandal.

The issue is the deal made with Shin Kanemaru, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's 78-year-old power broker, who got off with a $1,700 fine for accepting $4 million from the mob-related president of a trucking company.

Figures ranging from town and province assemblymen to junior members of the Diet, Japan's parliament, have joined the clamor against the plea bargain that essentially spares Mr. Kanemaru from having to testify in court and embarrass himself and others in the party leadership.

"Politicians and administrations are like tissue paper and will be disposed of" if they don't clean up their acts, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone warned his governing-party colleagues. Mr. Nakasone, along with Mr. Miyazawa a prime victim of the Recruit Cosmos stocks-for-favors scandal of 1988-1989, said voters wanted real reform and not lip service.

Mr. Miyazawa and other senior LDP faction leaders spent much of the weekend on television trying to calm voters and in a meeting trying to whip junior party officials into line.

"I will devote myself to carrying out political reform," Mr. Miyazawa vowed at the meeting. But that promise has been made and left unfulfilled by Japan's last six prime ministers through three colossal political money scandals.

"Mr. Kanemaru has admitted receiving the $4 million," Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe said on a television interview show, enunciating the line adopted by party elders. "So I don't understand what else they are going to ask him."

But millions of Japanese do understand. They want Mr. Kanemaru to testify under oath about his reliance on a now-dead yakuza mob kingpin for political favors, partially described in a public statement last month by prosecutors. Many also want details of who got the $4 million when it was passed out.

Whether those facts will ever come out may depend on ferocious behind-the-scenes struggle for the loyalties of a few dozen outraged junior LDP Dietmen.

The younger legislators apparently are powerless to change the minds of the LDP's elders, most of whom have already shown their determination to cut off the investigation.

The junior Dietmen's chance to influence events comes not from within their party but in the form of a united drive by the five opposition parties to haul Mr. Kanemaru before the parliament ,, and put him under oath.

If the disparate oppositions can keep their unity in the lower house, as few as 30 rebellious LDP members could swing the balance.

None of the angry young conservatives would speak for attribution yesterday, but several spoke pointedly at the weekend meeting, which was covered by Japanese news media.

"There can be no excuse for a politician in this country to continue political activities after associating with yakuza," Masaru Kano, 56, said at that meeting.

Assured of anonymity yesterday, several said that as many as 35 or 40 were actively demanding that Mr. Kanemaru be brought to account.

The younger members say they are caught in a vise.

On one side, LDP elders in Tokyo are demanding loyalty on grounds that the party's four-decade control of the government might end if the public ever saw how deeply it has come to depend on financial and other favors from the yakuza.

One accusation against Mr. Kanemaru is that he got a yakuza kingpin to call off right-wing demonstrators who were thwarting the election of Noboru Takeshita, his former faction boss, as prime minister. Mr. Takeshita later resigned the premiership in the Recruit scandal.

On the other side are enraged constituents and local party officials in their districts.

The rebellion within the LDP threatened to become the biggest since the 1970s, when 11 junior Dietmen resigned from the party to protest then-Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka's acceptance of bribes from Lockheed Aircraft Corp.

A count by Kyodo news service found that 72 local assemblies had passed resolutions by Saturday protesting the slap on the wrist given Mr. Kanemaru, not counting LDP chapters that also have complained publicly.

In Niigata Prefecture, 45 LDP assembly members were organizing a letter protesting the disparity between Mr. Kanemaru's lenient treatment and that given their provincial governor in the same scandal. Mr. Kanemaru was let off without so much as a court appearance and still is a member of the Diet and head of the biggest LDP faction. Gov. Kiyoshi Kaneko took one-fifth as much as Mr. Kanemaru but was formally indicted, forcing him to resign as governor and appear in court.

Mr. Kanemaru holed up at home for 35 days, daring prosecutors to use their power of arrest against the country's most powerful kingmaker.

He said he couldn't come out because armies of cameramen and reporters were camped outside his big, walled, brick house. But once the fine was paid Thursday, he strode through the same armies without incident and went back to his office to resume politics as usual.

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