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Friday, April 23, 2004

Ohta quizzed over ties with arrested meat exec


Staff Writer

OSAKA -- The arrest of Mitsuru Asada, vice chairman of the Osaka Prefecture Meat Cooperative Association, has sent shock waves through Osaka's political community and has put Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta, who admits having met Asada on several occasions, on the defensive.

News photo
Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta speaks to reporters at the governor's office April 16 after an arrest warrant was issued against former Hannan Corp. Chairman Mitsuru Asada.

Asada, a former chairman of Osaka-based meat wholesaler Hannan Corp., was arrested Saturday on suspicion of fraud.

He is thought to have falsely labeled imported meat as domestic produce in an effort to claim money from a government buyback scheme introduced after a domestic case of mad cow disease was discovered in September 2001.

Responding to weekend reports that Asada and the governor had a close relationship, Ohta said Monday that she had not seen Asada for a long time.

"I have not met with him in four years," a clearly agitated Ohta replied when asked at a news conference about her relationship with the former chairman.

At issue is what happened at a private meeting held at Asada's home on July 8, 2000, involving Asada, several members of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly, and Ohta, who had become governor about six months earlier.

At the time, the prefecture was discussing what to do about several public/private meat-processing plants that were facing severe financial difficulties.

The prefecture wanted to consolidate them; Hannan, as a meat wholesaler, had a vested financial interest in them and was greatly concerned about their future.

Two months later, the prefecture earmarked 10 million yen for studies into how to consolidate the processing plants.

Japanese Communist Party members later raised the issue in the assembly, where it was revealed that Ohta knew, and had met, Asada.

In his book, "Shokuniku no Teio: Kyofu wo Tsukanda Otoko, Asada Mitsuru," ("Emperor of Meat: A Man Who Made Fortune, Mitsuru Asada"), veteran journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi depicts Asada as a powerful political fixer.

He is portrayed as a man who works secret deals with politicians such as former Liberal Democratic Party heavyweights Muneo Suzuki and Hiromu Nonaka, and as a close friend of Yamaguchi-gumi boss Yoshinori Watanabe.

Both Mizoguchi and Kodansha Ltd., his publisher, say the assertions in the book have yet to be officially challenged or denied by those mentioned.

Mizoguchi claims the 10 million yen figure was decided upon by Asada during the July 2000 meeting with Ohta and Osaka officials, adding that the money would be used to pay off employees at the processing plants affected by the consolidation.

Ohta, however, has denied that the consolidation policy was discussed at the meeting.

She described the gathering as a chance to patch up relations with LDP members of the prefectural assembly, some of whom still resented her and felt that the national LDP headquarters had forced Ohta upon them as a candidate after a sexual harassment scandal had forced the previous governor, "Knock" Yokoyama, to resign.

"Yokoyama and Asada had been particularly close and in regular contact with each other, and Asada had reportedly even lent Yokoyama money to help out with his debts. While Asada also had close connections among local LDP members, Ohta was an unknown," Mizoguchi told The Japan Times.

Between January and July of 2000, Ohta said she met with Asada fewer than a half-dozen times. The first time was at her campaign headquarters immediately after she declared her candidacy.

It was a simple exchange of greetings, Ohta claimed, although Asada reportedly promised his support.

The exact nature of this support is likely to be investigated at the prefectural assembly. A local JCP spokesman said Ohta would face more questions over her relationship with Asada.

Meanwhile, Mizoguchi has appeared on numerous television news programs, laying out in detail Asada's relationships with local and national politicians and the mob.

"Asada was a powerful figure behind the scenes, one who influenced many local and national politicians," said the JCP spokesman, who asked not to be identified.

"We still don't know what kind of deals were done with Ohta or other politicians behind the scenes with regard to either the mislabeling scandal or the consolidation of the meat processing plants."



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The Japan Times

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