GENKAI, Saga Prefecture--The mayor here said Jan. 23 that he received--but returned--what he suspected was a bribe from a contractor tied to an individual known to have lavished gifts on nuclear power company executives.

Shintaro Wakiyama, 63, said at a news conference at the Genkai town office that he received “about 1 million yen ($9,140)” from Shiohama Industry Corp. in July 2018, immediately after he was elected mayor for the first time.

He said he returned the money to the company, which is based in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, through an acquaintance in December 2019.

Wakiyama also said he recently learned that the acquaintance had died soon after the money was returned, but he did not provide any details about the intermediary.

A Shiohama Industry official said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the company has received 1 million yen, apparently from Wakiyama.

“No employee can recount how our company handed cash (to the mayor),” the official said.

But the official explained that Shiohama Industry was seeking to expand its nuclear plant-related business.

“Heads of municipalities with nuclear power plants have influence over electric power companies,” the official said.

Genkai hosts a nuclear power plant, and Wakiyama has expressed his support for nuclear power generation.

Under the Political Fund Control Law, companies and organizations are prohibited from giving donations to politicians or their support groups.

Donations from individuals are permitted, but if the sum from one person exceeds 50,000 yen a year, the recipients must describe the donation in their income and expenditure reports on political funds.

The 1 million yen from Shiohama Industry was not listed in any of Wakiyama’s reports.

“I thought it was a temporary deposit,” the mayor said. “I cannot offer any rebuttal if the legality (of the money) is called into question. I was too naive.”

He said he will consult his supporters about his next course of action.

Wakiyama said he was suspicious of the money from the start.

He explained that several days after the mayoral election was held on July 29, 2018, two men connected to Shiohama Industry visited his home.

The men tried to hand Wakiyama something wrapped in small silk cloth, saying, “This is a congratulatory present,” according to the mayor.

Wakiyama said he caught sight of an envelope for gift money, so he told the men, “I don’t want it.”

But the men insisted, saying they would be “scolded” if they failed to deliver the present.

They put the envelope, along with a business card of the company’s president, at the doorway of Wakiyama’s home and left.

“I felt like I received a bribe,” Wakiyama recalled.

He said he felt a sense of shame but kept the money in a safe.

“I was too busy after becoming mayor and didn’t have time to go to faraway Fukui Prefecture to return the money,” he said.

Also located in Fukui Prefecture is the town of Takahama, where Eiji Moriyama had served as deputy mayor.

Moriyama, who died in March last year at the age of 90, had helped to bring nuclear power plants to the prefecture.

He also had close ties with Shiohama Industry, according to an industry source.

Several executives related to nuclear power operations at Kansai Electric Power Co. have resigned for receiving cash and other presents from Moriyama. They said he had demanded contracts from the utility for his company.

News of that scandal, which surfaced in September, “made me feel more and more that I needed to return (the money),” Wakiyama said.

After learning that his acquaintance had a connection with Shiohama Industry, the mayor gave the company’s money to the acquaintance in Genkai in mid-December, according to Wakiyama.

He said that after a few days, he received a phone call from the acquaintance: “The money has been returned to the manager of the company’s Tokyo branch.”

Wakiyama, who was elected as a town assembly member for the first time in 2001, declined to reveal the name and occupation of the acquaintance, citing privacy, but said that person died soon after the phone call.

An employee at Shiohama Industry’s headquarters in Tsuruga told The Asahi Shimbun, “It is highly likely that the head of the company’s Osaka branch, who died in December 2018, visited the mayor with a corporate adviser and handed (the money) directly to the mayor.”

Shiohama Industry has done civil engineering and construction work in the Wakasa region of Fukui Prefecture, home to 15 nuclear reactors, the most in the nation.

These reactors include ones operated by Kansai Electric Power at its Takahama nuclear power plant, as well as decommissioned units.

According to company documents, Shiohama Industry has received contracts for projects at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Shimane nuclear power plant operated by Chugoku Electric Power Co. and the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co.

A former senior official of Kansai Electric Power said that Moriyama and Shiohama Industry “had known each other since at least 20 years ago.

(This article was written by Matsuo Watanabe, Manabu Hiratsuka and Shingo Fukushima.)