The intriguing and perplexing
case of the golden folding screen

Starring Takeshita Noboru

By William Wetherall

A review of articles in the weekly magazines
Focus, 12 February 1993
Shukan Asahi, 5 February 1993
Shukan Gendai, 20 February 1993
Shukan Post, 12 February 1993

A version of this article appeared in
Mainichi Daily News, 14 February 1993, page 17 (Waiwai Waido)

Recent weeks have seen an intensification in media speculation that new testimony in an old case will tie Takeshita Noboru to the "Golden Screen" scam, news about which was once suppressed by a district public prosecutor. Among recent weeklies, Focus (12 February) has the most readable summary of a case whose central element (a gold-lacquered folding screen) and whose aroma of intrigue bring to mind Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee mystery, The Lacquer Screen.

We begin, then, with the Focus version of events.

After its founder died in 1979, the Heiwa Sogo Bank began to flounder, reportedly because of chaotic management" by the founder's family. The likelihood arose that the bank would be taken over. In 1985, the family sold 33.5 percent of the bank's shares to a capital management firm headed by Sato Shigeru. This intensified conflict between the family and a "gang of four" executives at Heiwa Sogo led by an auditor, Isaka Shigeaki. The gang of four wanted to try to rebuild the bank rather than allow it to be taken over and for Isaka, therefore, it was essential to repurchase the shares.

Enter Manabe Toshio, a Tokyo art dealer, who in the spring of 1985 claimed to be close to Sato (the share purchaser) and offered to act as a go-between for Isaka. All Isaka had to do was pay Manabe four billion yen for a golden screen worth no more than 500 million--or, says Shukan Post (12 February), one billion.

On June 13, 1986, so the Focus story goes, Manabe showed Isaka a memo that said "Takeshita 500 million, Sato 300 million, Isaka 100 million (other magazines have "Aoki" instead of "Isaka"). Focus says Isaka took this to mean the amount that he and the others would receive as their cut in getting the shares returned to Heiwa Sogo. Five days later Isaka met with Aoki Ihei, Takeshita Noboru's trusted secretary, at a Shimbashi tea house, Which may in fact have been Matsuyama in Ginza--according to Shukan Asahi (5 February) and Shukan Gendai (20 February)--or at the very least "a" ryotei in Ginza--this according to Isaka himself, because it was at this point that Isaka decided to say a few words in order to clear up reports that might "invite misunderstanding". (It is also at this point that the whole affair begins to resemble a contemporary reworking of Rashomon rather than a Judge Dee mystery.)

Why should Aoki, a man who has been described as Takeshita's "money guard," be involved? Why, in any case, should we suspect that a "Takeshita" on a list in Manabe's possession might have been Takeshita Noboru? Because in 1985, when all this was supposedly going on, it was the Finance Ministry that had the final say in whether or not Heiwa Sogo would be taken over, and at that time the Finance Minister was Takeshita Noboru.

In the "clarification" (covered last week in Mainichi Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun among other media), Isaka said that when he met Aoki (possibly before meeting Manabe for the first time) he asked Aoki to put the Heiwa Sogo gang of four's view of the share issue across to Takeshita. And in reply, Aoki is said to have mentioned that Sato "has been coming to the Takeshita office."

Soon after this, Isaka said, the chairman of Heiwa Sogo--who had previously worked at the Finance Ministry--introduced Isaka to Manabe. According to Isaka, Manabe presented himself as an old friend of Sato's and as the only person who could get the shares back. The condition--matching the Focus description above--was that the golden screen had to be bought for four billion yen. This transaction was apparently accomplished in August and September, 1985 using a four billion yen fund that Heiwa Sogo had loaned to a company associated with Isaka.

Again deviating from the Focus version, however, is Isaka's description of the list Manabe showed him, which Isaka said appeared to indicate that the necessary behind-the-screens payments would be 1.5 billion yen to Sato, 300 million to Takeshita and 100 million to Isaka himself. Isaka claims that he declined to accept any money for himself.

Heiwa Sogo never did get its shares back. Talk of returning the shares mysteriously evaporated in October, 1985. In February, 1986, Isaka resigned from Heiwa Sogo. In July, he was indicted by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors on a charge. of aggravated breach of trust.

Eventually, the Ministry of Finance engineered the acquisition of Heiwa Sogo by Sumitomo Bank, with the help of a since deceased Tokyo District Public Prosecutor who, according to Focus, traced what happened to the four billion yen, but later prohibited the printing of a Kyodo News Agency story that raised suspicions about 'the screen transaction. Why did he block publication? Who knows--except that Isaka himself formerly worked as an investigator for a district public prosecutors' office (Shukan Gendai), where he acquired the nickname "The Razor".

Aoki, too, is dead. In April 1989, he cut his body in several places--with a razor--and hanged himself. He had been then-prime minister Takeshita's private secretary and confidant for over 30 years. It was Aoki's name that was used in the purchase of shares in the Recruit scandal that forced Takeshita to resign. Hence Aoki is believed to have taken to the grave many secrets that would have implicated Takeshita and many others in numerous past ongoing, and potential scandals.

"Dead men tell no tales" most of the magazines have cawed in their on-and-off picking through Aoki's ashes for clues to the benefits that his death still seems to be bringing his chronically scandalized boss. The living Isaka, meanwhile, has been sued by Sumitomo Bank for return of the four billion yen loan from Heiwa Sogo.

Isaka is scheduled to testify in court on February 16, and Takeshita will testify in Parliament on February 17. Who can be believed?