Former Japanese defense minister denies wrongdoing in gifts-for-favors scandal

A former Japanese defense official expressed regret Monday for having close ties with a defense equipment company but denied having traded any favors for gifts.

Former Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya also told a parliamentary committee that he felt "deep remorse" that the matter could jeopardize government efforts to extend the Japanese navy's mission to refuel warships supporting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Moriya, who retired in August, said he played golf "more than 200 times" in 12 years with a former senior official of Yamada Corp., a defense equipment trading company.

Defense officials are banned from having contacts with stakeholders under Japanese law, and Moriya said he now believes it was "extremely inappropriate" for him to have had such ties.

However, under heated questioning, he flatly denied doing any favors for Yamada in procurement matters.

"There was absolutely none," he said.

Moriya also said he felt "deeply remorseful over my responsibility" for creating a possible obstacle to the government's efforts to renew the refueling mission, which expires Nov. 1.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has been pushing to extend the mission in the face of strong parliamentary opposition.

The opposition bloc argues the mission involves Tokyo too deeply in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in violation of Japan's pacifist constitution, and has vowed to defeat it.

Fukuda's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, was brought down in September under the accumulated weight of several scandals, and Moriya's case - which has received wide play in local media - is likely to complicate the prime minister's efforts.

The government gave the mission's critics additional fodder when it acknowledged earlier this month that it had mistakenly reported providing 750,000 liters (about 200,000 gallons) of fuel to a U.S. warship when it had actually provided 3 million liters (800,000 gallons).

In a report submitted last week to the ruling and opposition parties, the Defense Ministry acknowledged that officials were aware of the mistake back in 2003, but did not disclose it, according to defense officials.

The blunder concerns the refueling of a single warship in February 2003, and has been trumpeted by the opposition.