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October 25, 2014

Suga downplays conflict involving new trade chief’s Tepco stake

Staff Writer

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga brushed aside concerns Friday about the new trade and industry minister’s 600-share stake in Tokyo Electric Power Co. and said that the government guidelines in place to protect Cabinet ministers from conflicts of interest would be followed.

Miyazawa’s stake is worth about ¥200,000, Suga said. Tepco, as the beleaguered utility is known, had a market capitalization of ¥544.8 billion as of Friday afternoon. “There is no problem at all,” Suga told reporters.

Miyazawa was suddenly appointed METI chief on Monday within a day of predecessor Yuko Obuchi’s shock resignation. His role gives him oversight of nuclear energy policy and the rehabilitation of Tepco, which is still reeling from the core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in 2011.

The daily Tokyo Shimbun and other media outlets have reported that a conflict of interest might develop in the Cabinet if the minister overseeing Tepco fails to separate his personal interest in the utility from his power to oversee it.

Miyazawa’s financial assets are under particular scrutiny after it was revealed Thursday that his political fund management body paid ¥18,230 to a sadomasochism sex show bar in Hiroshima in 2010.

Miyazawa said that he never visited the bar but that one of his staffers had and, for some reason, logged the expense in Miyazawa’s official political funds report.

“It came right out of the blue,” Miyazawa told reporters later Thursday. “I swear I didn’t go there . . . I’ve never even heard of the bar’s name.”

Guidelines adopted by the Cabinet in 2001 urge ministers to refrain from trading securities, including stocks and real estate, while in office. The rules require incoming ministers to place any stocks they hold when entering office into a trust bank.

Miyazawa reportedly owned 588 shares of Tepco in 2010, when he was elected to the Upper House for the time. He bought another 12 in 2013.

Miyazawa is a former Finance Ministry official and a nephew of the late Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, a noted financial expert.

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