Photo/Illutration Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama on June 15 (Nobuo Fujiwara)

Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama on June 15 said he saw no problem in the collusion of Toshiba Corp. with his ministry to lean on foreign shareholders and would not take any action. 

“The ministry did the right thing,” he said at a news conference, adding that the exchanges were part of the ministry's policy “to maintain the stable development of important businesses and technologies that Toshiba carries out.”

Regarding an investigative report drafted by third-party lawyers, “It made some points that I take exception to regarding the facts,” he said.

Kajiyama dismissed the possibility of disciplining ministry employees who were involved. He also said the ministry will not conduct its own investigation.

The investigative report said that top ministry officials colluded to leak information of foreign shareholders and others to Toshiba, a possible breach of confidentiality and a violation of the National Civil Service Law.

“There is no need to check if each and every action of ministry employees is deemed to be a breach of confidentiality or not,” Kajiyama said.

At a news conference on June 14, Toshiba admitted there was a problem with its cozy relationship with the ministry.

Osamu Nagayama, who heads Toshiba’s board of directors, said that the officials “lacked legal compliance and corporate governance” in their relationship with the ministry.

The investigative report said that some ministry officials requested Effissimo Capital Management Pte. Ltd. to withdraw a personnel proposal before a shareholders meeting in summer 2020.

The report said they also urged other foreign shareholders not to support Effissimo’s proposal.

The ministry officials repeatedly had contact with Toshiba officials and leaked information about foreign shareholders and the ministry, the report said.

Under the law, government officials are banned from disclosing secret information that they gained access to in the performance of their duties.

A violation may be punished with a maximum one-year imprisonment or a fine up to 500,000 yen ($4,540).

Even if criminal charges are not brought, the violator can be subjected to disciplinary action.

The National Personnel Authority in its guidelines said a government official who intentionally leaks secrets and causes a major bottleneck in official operations “will be dismissed or suspended from duty.”

If an official does so unintentionally, the punishment will be “suspension from duties, a reduction in salary or an official warning.”

According to the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, each ministry and agency that has powers of disposition determines what constitutes “secret” in each case.

In similar cases, it does not matter if the government side designates what constitutes a secret in advance.

Rather, whether the information infringes on the benefits of an individual or the public by being leaked is considered.

According to the investigative report, a ministry adviser at the time contacted the Harvard University endowment fund, which is a large Toshiba shareholder, urging it not to exercise its voting rights at a shareholders meeting.

The adviser resigned in January, assuming a different position.

The scandal was brought up in May at a Lower House committee meeting.

The ministry said it “never asked the former adviser to lobby individual shareholders regarding exercising their voting rights.”