The first DPJ politician to really get in trouble for his mob connections was Seiji Maehara, head of the DPJ from 2005 to 2006. In March 2011, he was compelled to step down as foreign minister after it was revealed that he had received donations from Media 21, a production and real estate company that served as a front for the Yamaguchi-gumi and had made donations to several other DPJ members. According to Justice Ministry sources, the Tokyo prosecutor's office is investigating Maehara for falsifying his political donations records to hide his financial connections to Media 21.
Asked for comment for this article, Maehara told me, "First of all, in regard to what the Tokyo prosecutor's office is doing, whether they are investigating -- that is something that I really know nothing about. And also in regard to the alleged relation this company [Media 21] had with organized crime, I don't know anything about that. But I was aware that there were media reports saying such things, and as a result I decided that I would return all the money that was given to me [by Media 21]."
The Tokyo prosecutor's office refused to comment on whether it was still investigating Maehara.
Of course, the issue is bigger than allegations against one official. Some have questioned whether Prime Minister Noda screened his cabinet appointments at all when selecting them for their current positions. Noda staunchly defended Tanaka, the justice minister, even after he admitted past yakuza ties. Noda himself had to return $20,000 in political donations this January after one of his supporters, the president of a discount funeral and wedding service provider, was arrested as a co-conspirator for fraud along with a yakuza member. In the recent book The Taboos of Japan No One Will Write, investigative journalist Hirotoshi Ito noted that Noda and other DPJ members received donations from the same Yamaguchi-gumi benefactor as Maehara, via different front companies. Records obtained by the author back up this claim.
The yakuza themselves may get out of this relatively unscathed. Even after his friend Tanaka's downfall, police sources say that Inagawa-kai crime boss Uchibori was not expecting to be arrested at all in October on the money-laundering charges that had been filed against him. Top members of the Inagawa-kai met covertly with weekly magazine reporters after Oct. 10, allegedly on Uchibori's orders, outing some other politicians connected to them. Police sources think the message was a warning to every politician with yakuza ties: If you fail to live up to your part of the bargain, the relationship is over and we'll make it a very messy breakup.
It was a successful threat -- Uchibori was not prosecuted for money laundering, and the charges were ostensibly dropped; no hard feelings. If one judges from the latest polls, the yakuza's friends in the DPJ probably won't be so lucky.