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Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008

Filipino bar hostess visa scam snags top official


Staff writer

Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Masatoshi Kurata was embroiled in a scandal Friday over his alleged role in arranging visas for Filipino women to enter Japan and perform at "charity concerts," but who in fact ended up working as bar hostesses.

If the alleged scheme is confirmed, it will likely prompt further international criticism of Japan for its lack of efforts to eradicate trafficking of Asian women in the sex and adult entertainment industries.

Kurata flatly denied the allegation, first reported Friday morning by the Asahi Shimbun, that he had asked for favors from the Justice and Foreign ministries to provide short-term visas for an unspecified number of Filipino women so they could perform at "charity concerts" on behalf of the residents of Leyte Island in the Philippines, which was hit by massive landslides in 2006.

The visas were applied for by a Shizuoka nonprofit organization with links to Kurata's former public secretary, the paper said.

Such performers are required to obtain entertainment visas, but the immigration authorities at that time issued short-term visas because the events, which did in fact take place, were for charity. After the concerts, however, the women worked in pubs in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, the paper said.

Kurata said the allegations are "groundless," according to a member of his office. But the staff member said he could not answer any further questions because the office did not have any more information on the case.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura declined comment on the allegations but revealed that the government was looking into the case. The Justice Ministry also said the allegations were being checked internally.

In September, Shizuoka Prefectural Police reportedly investigated two organizations — MIRAI, the NPO, and Mirai Charity Organization — on grounds that they had dispatched Filipino women to pubs even though they had entered Japan on short-term visas to participate in charity concerts.

The Asahi reported that Kurata's former public secretary was managing the NPO, and together with Kurata they asked the Justice and Foreign ministries to provide 90-day visas for the women.

MIRAI was not available for comment because the publicly listed phone number had been disconnected. It was certified as an NPO by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government in April and the local government said the group still exists as an NPO, but that its status is currently under review.

Japan has been internationally criticized as being a hotbed of human-trafficking and the adult entertainment control law and immigration law were revised to strengthen regulations on such illegal activities.

"Some foreigners entering Japan with entertainment visas were treated unfairly, and there were situations which were like human-trafficking," said Koji Nakagawa, an official of the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau.

"And the United States also issued a report that foreigners entering Japan on entertainment visas were becoming victims of human-trafficking."

Since then, the number of entertainment visas decreased drastically.

In 2004, 134,879 foreigners entered Japan on entertainment visas, but in 2007 the number fell to 38,855, according to the Justice Ministry. Out of that number, 82,741 people from the Philippines entered Japan with an entertainment visa in 2004, but the number dropped to 5,533 in 2007.

"But stricter laws are not going to completely solve the problem," said Ippei Torii, secretary general of Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, a nongovernmental organization based in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.



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