Photo/IllutrationMotoaki Saito, former president of Pezy Computing and former chairman of ExaScaler Inc. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

An opposition party has raised suspicions over the way a government-affiliated organization extended a no-interest loan well above the upper limit to a supercomputer-related company now embroiled in a fraud scandal.

The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) provided the loan of 6 billion yen (about $55 million) from a supplementary budget for fiscal 2016 to ExaScaler Inc., then headed by Motoaki Saito.

The loan was not only 1 billion yen over the ceiling, but it was also approved shortly after Saito promoted supercomputer development at an experts’ meeting of the Cabinet Office in October 2016, Masato Imai, a lawmaker of Kibo no To (Hope), said in a Lower House Budget Committee meeting on Jan. 30.

“(A panel member) secured a loan, which was public money, for his company,” Imai said. “The way members were chosen is problematic, as is the fact that the company obtained the loan in a short period of time. Anyone would suspect something (dubious behind the scenes).”

Saito, 50, has been indicted on charges of defrauding the government-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Development Organization (NEDO) of about 653 million yen in subsidies that went to supercomputer development company Pezy Computing.

Saito served as president of Pezy Computing and chairman of ExaScaler. Those two companies and another one related to Saito have received more than 10 billion yen in subsidies and loans from government-affiliated organizations.

According to Imai, Saito was the only company operator among the seven members at the 2016 experts’ meeting, which was held to discuss ways to revitalize the Japanese economy with science and technology.

Nine days after the meeting, the JST started soliciting applicants for a zero-interest loan program with 12 billion yen in available funds, according to the agency.

Although the application period was for two weeks, the JST waited until four days before the deadline to hold an explanatory meeting.

ExaScaler secured 6 billion yen, or half of the total, in just one loan. The limit per project was 5 billion yen.

Since 2013, the JST has solicited applicants for similar loans on 30 occasions. The loan to ExaScaler was the only case that went beyond the maximum amount.

A JST official told The Asahi Shimbun there was nothing underhanded about the loan to ExaScaler.

“We decided to extend the loan through fair procedures, such as screenings conducted by outside evaluation members,” the official said. “We did not give preferential treatment.”

Imai also mentioned in the Diet that Finance Minister Taro Aso had visited Saitama Prefecture to inspect supercomputers developed by Saito’s company in July 2016, ahead of Saito’s attendance at the experts’ meeting.

Imai asked Aso if he had met Saito before that visit.

“I can’t recall clearly,” the finance minister replied.

When asked about the process leading to the visit, Aso explained: “I developed an interest by reading a book (written by Saito). We told his company that we want to see (the supercomputers).”

Aso’s office told The Asahi Shimbun that the former prime minister was not connected to Saito’s appointment to the experts’ meeting.

“We did not recommend him as a member of the experts’ meeting of the Cabinet Office nor introduce him to ministries and agencies,” the office said.

Another Hope party lawmaker, Michiyoshi Yunoki, said in the Budget Committee meeting that Saito has been covering the hefty office rent of a freelance journalist who has written a book about the Abe administration.

Yunoki, pointing out that the journalist has publicly stated that he is on friendly terms with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asked Abe if he was aware of the relationship between the journalist and Pezy Computing.

Abe criticized Yunoki, saying, “You are asking questions based on a weekly magazine report.”