Photo/IllutrationThe education ministry building in Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A senior education ministry official arrested for bribery helped his former consulting firm executive friend in connection with a disaster response program at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) where the official was posted, sources said.

Investigators at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office believe that Kazuaki Kawabata, director-general for international affairs at the ministry, benefited a medical care consultancy Koji Taniguchi was with through his position at JAXA.

Alleged “fixer” Taniguchi is also at the center of another bribery probe involving a senior education ministry bureaucrat simultaneously.

Education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi apologized for the arrest of a second high-ranking official over the bribery scandal at a news conference on July 27.

“I offer deep apologies for causing the general public to lose faith,” he said.

Hayashi said the ministry will investigate its employees to find out whether they are abiding by service rules.

Kawabata, 57, was arrested on July 26 on suspicion of accepting bribes in the form of wining and dining worth 1.4 million yen ($12,600) when he was assigned to work as a vice president of JAXA from August 2015 to March 2017.

He oversaw JAXA contracts, facilities and space education programs at the agency, and at one time, he was in charge of evaluating contracts for projects open to bidding.

As part of its disaster response efforts, JAXA assists emergency medical teams by securing connectivity via an ultrahigh-speed Internet satellite after online connections are severed by a large-scale disaster.

The agency also provides relevant government ministries and agencies with data on potential signs of landslides and mudslides, as well as the extent of flood damage, in the event of earthquakes and floods.

Taniguchi was indicted on a charge of aiding in the exchange of bribes between Futoshi Sano, a former high-ranking education ministry bureaucrat, and officials of Tokyo Medical University on July 24.

Taniguchi is accused of serving as an intermediary between the two parties, and he was rearrested on suspicion of giving bribes to Kawabata on July 26.

Investigators at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office have interviewed Taniguchi since last year in a probe, separate from the one involving Sano, which could be related to the JAXA case.

Kawabata joined the Science and Technology Agency, which is now part of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in 1984.

After working in the field of nuclear power and research and development at the agency, he was transferred to JAXA in July 2014.

Kawabata and Taniguchi have known each other for many years.

Taniguchi, who is a licensed bonesetter, graduated from Nippon Sport Science University, according to his acquaintances. He opened his clinic in 1997.

While he managed his own firm, he also served as a director of the medical care consulting company that was suspected of bribing Kawabata.

An individual who had worked with Taniguchi described him as a “smooth talker having connections with politicians and bureaucrats.”

“He is friendly and was like a fixer by immediately making others feel at ease,” the individual said. “He was living large.”

Among his network were several Diet members.

One of his business cards identified himself as a “policy adviser” to an opposition member of the Upper House. He also carried out sales activities at government ministries and agencies.

In a faxed reply to The Asahi Shimbun, the Upper House legislator said, “I have received advice from Taniguchi since several years ago as he is well-versed in policy issues.

“I approved of his using the title of ‘policy adviser,” but I have not paid for it.”

Taniguchi was dismissed as a director of the consultancy in February.

An official with the consulting firm denied the connection between the dismissal and the investigation.

“We dismissed him based on our judgment of his competency,” the official said.