Arrested education official introduced alleged briber to Sports Agency official

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TOKYO — A senior education ministry official arrested in a bribery case introduced the former consultancy executive who allegedly bribed him to a senior Sports Agency official, sources close to the matter have told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Following the introduction, the agency — which is supervised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) — awarded a contract to a general incorporated association where the former executive, Koji Taniguchi, served as a director. Part of that contract was then farmed out to a company affiliated with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), where the arrested official, Kazuaki Kawabata, had previously served as a board member while on loan from MEXT.

The special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office appears to be examining these circumstances. Prosecutors have arrested Kawabata, who was serving as director-general for international affairs, for allegedly receiving bribes from Taniguchi in the form of wining and dining in return for favors for the consultancy.

According to those familiar with the situation, the general incorporated association in question was established in April 2017 with the aim of improving compliance in the sports world. Its board members included a lawmaker and a university professor, as well as the former executive. In the first fiscal year after its launch, the association won a 3.9 million yen contract from the Sports Agency to study the current situation of compliance in the domestic sports community. The association subcontracted part of the work to the JAXA affiliate.

Before the association was established, Kawabata, then a JAXA board member, introduced to Taniguchi a fellow education ministry official who was on loan to the Sports Agency, according to the sources. The senior agency official, like Kawabata, was treated by Taniguchi, and possibly provided the ex-executive with information about the contracted study.

A Sports Agency official in charge of the contract explained to the Mainichi that although the association had been newly established and did not have a significant track record, it had specialists with necessary know-how for the job. “We didn’t award the contract arbitrarily,” the official said.

A person close to the association said the subcontracting arrangement involving the JAXA affiliate was proposed by Taniguchi. The company was doing space station crisis management, and Taniguchi explained that the firm’s extremely high level of crisis management skills could be used for enforcing compliance in the sports world, the person said.

Taniguchi was dismissed from the association’s board in January this year.