A former top official at Kansai Electric Power Co. has come forward to reveal a nearly 20-year history of doling out "top secret" huge donations to Japanese prime ministers, funded on the backs of ratepayers.
Chimori Naito, 91, a former KEPCO vice president, said that for 18 years from 1972, seven prime ministers received 20 million yen (about $200,000 now) annually from Yoshishige Ashihara, who served as both KEPCO president and chairman.
At that time, political donations to individual lawmakers were not illegal. However, in 1974, electric power companies declared a ban on corporate donations to politicians because of strong public opposition to the use of electricity fees to pay for such contributions.
Naito said that "ban" was only a superficial stance taken by the electric power companies.
"There is no way those companies could (ban such donations)," he said. "Nothing would have happened if we angered politicians."
Naito had long taken pride in working closely with Ashihara in making the donations as part of efforts to promote nuclear energy and to further develop the electric power industry.
However, the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 and the inept handling of that disaster by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, politicians and bureaucrats led Naito to have a change of heart.
"As I began to think about my own death, I also recalled the course I had taken in life," Naito said. "A reporter (from The Asahi Shimbun) came just at the time when I began feeling that I wanted to talk about matters I had never spoken about until now. I thought it would serve as a lesson for future generations."
According to Naito, the prime ministers who were given the money were Kakuei Tanaka, Takeo Miki, Takeo Fukuda, Masayoshi Ohira, Zenko Suzuki, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Noboru Takeshita. Only Nakasone is still alive.
Naito called aides to the prime ministers to arrange meetings twice a year during the traditional Bon period in summer and at the year-end season. Naito accompanied Ashihara to those meetings where the money was directly handed over.
Naito also revealed that other important politicians, including the chief Cabinet secretary and executives of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as well as the major opposition parties, were given donations according to how much assistance they provided the electric power industry. In total, Kansai Electric doled out several hundreds of millions of yen a year in such donations.
Naito graduated from Kyoto University in 1947 and entered what would later become Kansai Electric. In 1962, he became an aide to Ashihara, who at that time was company president. Ashihara would serve as president until 1970 when he became chairman, a post he held until 1983, the same year Naito became a vice president at Kansai Electric. He left the company in 1987. Ashihara died in 2003 at 102.
Distributing political donations to influential politicians was imperative for Kansai Electric, which depended on nuclear power plants for about half of its total electricity supply before the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Naito agreed to be interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun, and he spoke with reporters for a total of 69 hours over 23 sessions from December 2013 until July 2014.
He said the government's handling of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was unforgivable.
"There was a problem in the relationship created over many years among those in the political, bureaucratic and electric power sectors," he said.
Naito said the money Ashihara distributed to prime ministers and other influential politicians was a "top secret" matter.
Naito said the two major reasons for making the donations was to contribute to the stability of the electric power industry and to promote national prosperity.
"The money was given for the betterment of the nation, and there was no specific objective," he said. "That was simply one way for electric power companies to act toward public authority that had control over approval of business matters. We hoped it would work like Chinese herbal medicine and take effect after prolonged use."
An official with Kansai Electric said the company was not aware of such donations.
Officials at Nakasone's office said aides from the time of the donations had long since died so there was no way of confirming their receipt. Nakasone also did not acknowledge receiving such donations even after repeated questions from The Asahi Shimbun.
Those who knew the other prime ministers named by Naito said they were unaware of such donations.
Takashi Mikuriya, a visiting political science professor at the University of Tokyo who has long conducted oral histories of politicians, praised Naito for coming forward to leave behind testimony as a history of the nation.
"Naito likely felt that the electric power industry had never done anything wrong, but the nuclear accident made him realize that was nothing but misplaced confidence," Mikuriya said. "The accident by TEPCO, which for Kansai Electric was the model to strive for and to overcome, likely led to a drastic change in his sense of values that had previously believed his behind-the-scenes work was for the good of the nation."
(This article was written by Kamome Fujimori and Osamu Murayama.)
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