Japan Foreign Ministry winds up scandal

TOKYO, Reuters

Japan’s Foreign Ministry raced on Wednesday to finish a report on its investigation into a rogue diplomat suspected of embezzling millions of dollars to pay for his golf habit and a string of racehorses named for his mistress.

The alleged scandal involving at least one senior Foreign Ministry official could cast a shadow over the government of embattled Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, reeling from a high-profile bribery scandal that forced a Cabinet minister to resign in disgrace this week.

Mori’s public support ratings are already near rock-bottom levels, giving his ruling coalition a bad case of the jitters given an election for parliament’s Upper House in July, and the Foreign Ministry problems have grabbed headlines for days.

Domestic media say a 55-year-old Foreign Ministry bureaucrat skimmed hundreds of millions of yen in clandestine public funds for his personal use — including the purchase of more than a dozen race horses, golf club memberships and a pricey condominium in central Tokyo.

NHK public television said the investigation had revealed the official had stashed at least 500 million yen (US$4.29 million) of the funds in bank accounts under his name. Of this, at least 50 million was reportedly used to buy race horses.

The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper said the official had named the mares among his racehorses after a girlfriend.

The Foreign Ministry was expected to announce on Thursday the results of its internal investigation into the allegations and Tokyo police are conducting a separate probe. The “secret diplomacy funds,” intended to cover expenses for overseas trips by prime ministers and other top officials as well as diplomatic activities including espionage, are coming under fire from opposition parties, who have vowed to take up the matter in a parliamentary session starting on Wednesday.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said Foreign Minister Yohei Kono would dismiss the official and announce punishments for himself and more than 10 other officials.