TODAY’S FOCUS: Ten Years Later, Lockheed Scandal Taints Japanese Politics
TOKYO (AP) _ Many of the major figures in Japan’s gravest post-World War II scandal are enfeebled by age or illness, and some have died. But the 10-year-old legal battle over who accepted under-the-table donations from the Lockheed Corp. continues.
Nine people, including former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, have appealed verdicts that they were guilty of involvement in Lockheed’s efforts to promote sales of its planes through under-the-table donations.
The scandal led to years of confrontation in Japan’s parliament over the issue of political ethics and resulted in a tightening of political funding rules. But the nationwide newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, echoing other dailies on the 10-year anniversary, said that ″purification of politics has not progressed.″
The late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations, disclosed on Feb. 4, l976, that Lockheed paid $12.3 million in agent fees in Japan, including ″bribes and questionable political contributions.″
That news brought deliberations in the Japanese Diet, or parliament, to a halt, caused massive street demonstrations and resulted in indictments for 16 politicians and businessmen, including Tanaka and powerful right-wing fixer Yoshio Kodama.
Lockheed, a Burbank, Calif.-based defense contractor, pleaded guilty in 1979 to U.S. federal charges of concealing payments to Japanese officials.
Tanaka, who was in police custody for 20 days following his arrest in July 1976, was accused of receiving $1.7 million in bribes from Lockheed through a Japanese trading company, Marubeni Corp., while in office from 1972 to 1974.
Kodama died in 1984 at age 72 and was the only one of the 16 defendants not convicted. He allegedly received more than $7 million to promote Lockheed’s jetliners and anti-submarine warplanes.
Kodama, like Tanaka, denied the charges, but one distraught rightist, 29- year-old movie actor Mitsuyasu Maeno, killed himself in 1976 by crashing his small plane into Kodama’s palatial Tokyo home in a kamikaze attack.
Kenji Osano, 68, a confidant of Tanaka who owns a string of hotels on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, also was charged with perjury for denying before parliamentary hearings that he acted as an agent for Lockheed.
Another who gained prominence was Mieko Enomoto, who said in 1981 that she had overheard her former husband Toshio, Tanaka’s secretary and a defendant, saying he had accepted the bribe money on behalf of Tanaka.
Miss Enomoto since has become a television celebrity, posed in the nude for a men’s magazine and has run expensive bars in Tokyo’s Ginza nightclub district.
Current Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, whose name turned up in Lockheed memos, testified to the Diet but was never indicted. Susumu Nikaido, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also was named a ″gray official″ suspected of receiving money but also was not prosecuted.
The trials culminated in October 1983 when Tanaka, still Japan’s most powerful political figure, was sentenced by the Tokyo District Court to four years in prison. He immediately appealed, as have Enomoto, Osano, former Transport Minister Tomisaburo Hashimoto, Diet member Takayuki Sato, All Nippon Airways Chairman Tokuji Wakasa and three Marubeni executives. Not one has served time for a conviction.
Among the repercussions from the case, the Political Fund Regulation Law was toughened and the Diet, after years of futile efforts by the opposition to expel Tanaka, last year set up an ethics screening council.
The Liberal Democratic Party, battered at the polls after the scandal broke and after Tanaka’s conviction, has tried to improve its tainted image by opening up the selection process for party leaders to the general membership. Fund-raising events, unheard of in pre-Lockheed days when big business could funnel money directly into LDP coffers, are now common.
″Politicians are much more aware of the dangers of accepting bribes, although the basic pattern of obtaining money and distributing it among electorates has not changed,″ Takashi Tachibana, a freelance writer who has written six books about the Lockheed case, said in an interview.
The once-timid local media have plunged into investigative reporting since Lockheed, and not infrequently upstage police in breaking major crimes. More than 100 books have been written about the Lockheed scandal and Tanaka.
Despite the ongoing trial, Tanaka increased membership in his party faction, the LDP’s largest, and is widely regarded as the ″kingmaker″ who gained office for Nakasone and his two predecessors.
Tanaka, however, suffered a stroke a year ago, which has done far more to erode his political authority than the long-running scandal.
″As long as Tanaka was active, interest in Lockheed remained high,″ Tachibana said. ″But with Tanaka on the way out, Lockheed is becoming part of history. It won’t be long before it’s just a question on school exams.″
But Takeo Miki, 78, prime minister at the time the scandal broke, remembers it as ″the most important event of my 49 years as a member of parliament.″ Miki, in an interview with the nationwide newspaper Asahi Shimbun, recalled that the scandal ″invited a situation of political instability and caused people to lose trust in government. It set back Japanese politics for decades.″