Photo/IllutrationInternal affairs minister Seiko Noda (Photo by Takeshi Iwashita)

Internal affairs minister Seiko Noda brushed off suggestions July 19 that she meddled in an investigation by a government agency into a company dealing in cryptocurrency.

The matter concerns a briefing her office was given by the Financial Services Agency about the unnamed company in the presence of a company representative.

Given her position as a Cabinet minister, Noda risked being accused of exerting pressure on a government investigation.

Noda flatly denied any such intention July 19, telling reporters the meeting was aimed at getting “an overall general account of cryptocurrency exchanges.”

Noda also stated that she had “no vested interest in the company in question” and the decision by her office to request a briefing “obviously does not amount to exerting pressure.”

She added that she was not present when the meeting was held Jan. 30.

The FSA slapped the Tokyo-based company with a warning Jan. 12 that it was suspected of violating the law on payment services by engaging in cryptocurrency exchanges as it was not registered to do so, according to sources.

The company, whose business also includes planning, began dealing in its own cryptocurrency last October.

The FSA requested a written response to its concerns from the company, stating that if it “did not respond by the deadline given, it would report the matter to investigating authorities and take necessary steps.”

A document obtained by The Asahi Shimbun through information disclosure and other sources showed that several days after the agency issued the warning, Noda’s office contacted the agency to request an explanation of what had transpired.

The office also informed the agency of its plan to allow a company representative to attend the briefing since the company consulted with the office over the matter.

The name of the individual who requested the meeting was redacted on the document, but the sources said it was one of Noda’s aides.

An agency official visited Noda’s office at the Diet members’ office building on Jan. 30 to explain to Noda’s aide and the representative of the company under investigation the FSA’s stance on regulations concerning funds raising by issuing cryptocurrency and other matters, according to the sources.

The agency continued to investigate the company after the session, and advised the entity in late February in what is called administrative guidance not to sell cryptocurrency, citing legal violations with regard to payment services.

A senior agency official noted that the request from Noda’s office for a briefing could be interpreted as pressure.

“A public servant will likely take it as pressure if an aide to a sitting Cabinet member calls for a meeting in which an employee of a company the agency is looking into is also present,” the official said.

The Asahi Shimbun has contacted Noda’s office several times for an explanation since mid-June, but received no reply until Noda spoke to reporters about the issue on July 19.

“My aide and the employee of the company know each other,” Noda said. “Since we received a request for details of the regulations concerning cryptocurrency exchanges, we arranged (for a meeting with the agency). I was not aware of the agency’s warning against the company.”

She acknowledged that her aide attended the briefing.

Noda is not the first Diet member to make inquiries into a government agency involved in an investigation.

In 2012, Kozo Yamamoto, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of the Lower House, raised questions in the Diet concerning an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission into allegations of insider trading involving an acquaintance of his.

In another case in 2017, an aide to Jiro Hatoyama, an LDP member of the Lower House, requested a briefing from the National Tax Agency about a tax inquiry concerning a company the aide had dealings with.

(This story was compiled from reports by Nobuya Sawa and Takuya Kado.)