Tokyo prosecutors arrest Finance Ministry officials

TOKYO (AP) — In the latest embarrassment for Japan’s most powerful bureaucracy, police on Monday arrested two senior Finance Ministry officials on bribery charges.
Koiichi Miyagawa, 52, and Toshimi Taniuchi, 48, were allegedly wined and dined by Japanese banks in exchange for tips on surprise inspections, said a spokesman for the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Last week, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat was arrested on similar charges of accepting entertainment in return for favors.
National broadcaster NHK reported that Miyagawa, the Finance Ministry’s chief inspector, was suspected of receiving dinners and golf outings worth $20,800 from Asahi Bank and Dai-ichi Bank between 1993 and 1997.
Taniuchi, an assistant chief in the inspection department, allegedly accepted entertainment worth up to $17,600 from Sanwa Bank and Hokkaido Takushoku Bank between 1994 and 1997, NHK said.
Opposition leaders called on Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka to step down and take responsibility for the scandal, news reports said.
The Finance Ministry periodically conducts surprise inspections of financial institutions, and the suspects allegedly revealed the timing and nature of the visits, the Asahi newspaper reported.
The inspections are meant to ensure that financial institutions keep their books in order, although a recent string of failures in the industry has shown that many banks and securities houses have been able to conceal staggering losses and bad loans.
Many financial institutions have a team of “Ministry of Finance watchers” whose responsibilities include wining and dining government officials, the Asahi said.
The Finance Ministry is widely considered the most influential ministry in Japan’s bureaucracy. But its prestige has waned in recent years as banks and other financial institutions under its supervision have begun to buckle under mountains of debt and a string of scandals.