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Scandal links politics, crime

Another scandal involving the governing Liberal Democratic Party broke Thursday with police raids of the offices of a large trucking company that is reported to have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to top politicians and organized crime.

A series of scandals have tainted politicans both in and out of government since disclosures of improper payoffs to members of Parliament toppled Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita in 1989. But the amounts reportedly involved in the current scandal are far larger than those in the past.

More ominously, reports have suggested that the company raided Thursday for evidence, Tokyo Sagawa Kyubin Co., might have acted as a conduit linking some of the nation's top political leaders and the yakuza, or organized crime groups. Included in the list of targets of the raids were the offices of the Inagawa-kai, Japan's second-largest yakuza family.

"It is the worst collusion since even before World War II in terms of the amount of money and the number of politicians involved," political commentator Hisashi Kikuchi said on the evening news broadcast of the TBS network.

News reports have said the Inagawa-kai leader used some of the money for a major stock share manipulation scheme disclosed last year. In that scheme the yakuza figure received financing and assistance from the Nomura Securities Company, the world's largest brokerage house, which was hit with a heavy penalty for its sales practices in the episode.

Parliament has already been paralyzed by opposition party demands for hearings into another scandal in which a former Cabinet member who is close to Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was indicted on bribery charges.

Kikuchi, the political commentator, said the scandal "could destroy the Miyazawa Cabinet."

At the very least, politicians said, the new developments could stall even further the governing party's legislative agenda.

The raids Thursday were widely expected. Japanese news organizations, obviously informed in advance, were waiting at the offices when the police and prosecutors arrived, and reports of the raids dominated evening television news as well as afternoon newspapers, which emphasized their potential political implications.

Although the prosecutors have not made any information public, the news reports highlighted allegations that Tokyo Sagawa Kyubin, a major parcel delivery company, may have provided more than $1-billion to the yakuza as well as politicians in both the governing and opposition parties.

It reportedly did this through direct payments in some instances and in others through guarantees of loans taken out by companies controlled by the gangsters.