11/20/2008, 00.00
JAPAN
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Two former government officials targeted in pension scandal terrorism case

by Pino Cazzaniga
Police believe attacks might be vengeance for errors that led to the pension records scandal. Two people have died so far but more might follow.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Police are looking for traces of blood, footprints or any evidence in the homes of two government officials. The bodies of former deputy welfare minister Takehiko Yamaguchi, 66, and his wife, Michiko were found with multiple stab wounds in the vestibule of their home Tuesday morning, in the city of Saitama. The couple, according to police, was killed the night before. Later in the evening Yasuko Yoshihara, 72, wife of Kenji Yoshihara, a former administrative deputy minister of the then Health and Welfare Ministry, was stabbed by a man disguised as a parcel deliverer. Although seriously injured her wounds are not said to be life-threatening. Her husband has been retired for the past 18 years.

When Ms Yoshihara she was rushed to a hospital, she reportedly told paramedics: "My husband may be targeted. It's dangerous.” The person responsible for the brutal crimes could still be planning further attacks.

Although the assassin or assassins have not been found, there seem to be no doubt that the two cases are related. Authorities said the attacks shared at least three elements: the use of a knife; the modus operandi in both knifings, and above all the backgrounds of the victims or intended victims, namely Yamaguchi and Yoshihara, both of whom were officials with the same ministry and worked closely together.

Kenji Yoshihara served as chief of the Social Insurance Agency when Takehiko Yamaguchi was in charge of the pension reform commission.

According to experts Yamaguchi did a good job in reforming the pension system. However, over the years because of bad management hundreds of thousands of records were lost and many pensioners may end up without a pension. More recently some cases of corruption have come to light.

Police and analysts agree that the motive behind these crimes is resentment against the government. They are therefore a form of terrorism.

Both government and public opinion have unequivocally condemned the attack. “Our society can never be called healthy and normal if fears of terrorism prevent government officials from carrying out their duties,” wrote an editorial writer for The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The National Police Agency (NPA) has geared up for a massive operation in search of the culprits. It will also provide protection to current and retired government officials and their families, bodyguards included.

“We must not allow a third attack,” an NPA director general said.

“If they were indeed acts of terrorism with political motives targeting ranking officials in the past, they are unpardonable,” Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said.

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