Japanese lawmaker under investigation commits suicide

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese lawmaker hanged himself in a Tokyo hotel room Thursday, hours before he was expected to be arrested in a widening financial scandal.
Shokei Arai, 50, killed himself while other lawmakers were considering a court request to allow his arrest on suspicion of taking bribes from a brokerage company. One day earlier, he insisted he was innocent and told reporters to mark his last words.
The suicide comes as several Japanese government officials are being investigated on suspicion of accepting bribes from financial institutions in return for favors.
Arai’s death could be a setback for prosecutors trying to stamp out official corruption because they expected their investigation of him would expose the shady ties between financial companies and lawmakers.
Arai, a former Finance Ministry official, was suspected of receiving $230,000 in illegal profits from Nikko Securities. He had admitted receiving funds from Nikko, but said that the money was earnings from a legitimate investment.
Prosecutors suspected that he used his influence as a lawmaker to pressure Nikko into funneling money into his account, Japanese media reported.
Arai is the latest lawmaker to be implicated in illegal stock trading and bribery. In a scandal in the late 1980’s, dozens of politicians allegedly received cut-price shares in a subsidiary of Japan’s Recruit company in return for favorable treatment.
The Finance Ministry now is under investigation over allegations two senior bureaucrats accepted bribes from banks. The two have been arrested, and two top ministry officials have resigned. Two former officials under investigation for bribery committed suicide last month.