Japan nuclear operator admits it took $4 million in cash and gifts from local official

In a photo from Aug 6, 2019, a Vietnamese policeman approaches anti-China protesters as they hold placards during a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.
In a photo from Aug 6, 2019, a Vietnamese policeman approaches anti-China protesters as they hold placards during a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - The president of a Japanese power firm admitted on Friday (Sept 27) that he and other executives received money and gifts that totalled 320 million yen (S$4 million) from a town hosting one of their nuclear plants.

The money and gifts were given over seven years from 2011 and came from the late deputy mayor of Takahama town, where Kansai Electric (Kepco) has a nuclear plant.

"I deeply apologise for causing great concern to stakeholders and the public," Kepco president Shigeki Iwane told reporters.

The admission came after investigations by tax authorities into the deputy mayor revealed the payoffs.

"We were afraid our relationship with the local government would be damaged" if the gifts and money were rejected, Mr Iwane said.

"We had in mind to return them at the right time. We knew they were expensive gifts and we had to return them one day," he added.

But Mr Iwane added that he "would not reveal the details of who received what and when as the information is private", saying that some of the gifts had already been returned.

According to local media, tax agency investigations found that former deputy mayor Eiji Moriyama received a 300 million yen commission from a local construction company that was hired for projects at the Takahama nuclear power plant.

Mr Moriyama reportedly told the authorities he had decided to give Kepco officials the money in the form of cash and gifts as a token of his appreciation.

It was not immediately clear if Kepco, which runs the Takahama nuclear plant with four reactors in central Fukui prefecture, would face sanctions over the incident.

Before Mr Iwane's press conference, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara said a thorough probe was necessary.

"If (the news) is true, it's an extremely egregious and serious situation. It could shake the trust of communities where nuclear plants are located."