Lavish nights at Club Godfather opened door to Japan pension fund bribery case

Thu Oct 10, 2013 11:22am EDT
 
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By Nathan Layne

SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - When a Tokyo-based investment manager set out to win business from a pension fund in northern Japan, the cost included dozens of nights drinking at Club Godfather, a discrete watering hole with a $200 cover charge and kimono-clad hostesses.

Kazuyoshi Takahama, now 71, was treated to more than 50 nights out at the club in Sapporo as KTOs Capital Partners, a hedge fund, lobbied for a share of the $245 million pension fund he helped oversee as its chairman, prosecutors say. Takahama favored shochu, a local liquor, while his free-spending hosts ordered up expensive wines.

Somewhere along the way, by his own admission, Takahama lost his way. From late 2009 through early 2010, he persuaded the investment committee he chaired to turn over a sixth of the pension fund's assets to KTOs to manage, prosecutors say. He didn't blink when two KTOs executives handed him an envelope with about $25,000 in cash at a hotel cafe in November 2010.

"I thought the money was a thank you for all I had done and a plea for my future cooperation," Takahama told a Sapporo court last month as he pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe. Takahama was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday, a sentence that was suspended for three years.

While viewed as an extreme case, the prosecution of Takahama has been watched as a sign of the increasing willingness of Japanese regulators and prosecutors to crack down on what they see as the corrupting influence of entertainment. Like others in his position, Takahama was subject to the same regulations as public official by virtue of the fact that the fund he oversaw was partially invested in Japan's national pension scheme.

The Securities Exchange and Surveillance Commission (SESC) brought a parallel case against KTOs in June for spending 2.6 million yen ($26,500) on entertaining Takahama and others, invoking a clause against providing "special benefits" to clients in Japan's financial instruments law.

In an unrelated case, the SESC has been investigating whether staff at Deutsche Bank AG provided what could be considered excessive entertainment to pension fund executives, people familiar with that probe say.

The securities market regulator is also looking into the same issue in a regular inspection of Goldman Sachs, one of several issues it is examining at the investment bank, people familiar with the mater said.   Continued...