In Japan, Killer May Be Hunting Officials Associated With Pension Debacle

By Blaine Harden and Akiko Yamamoto
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 20, 2008

TOKYO, Nov. 19 -- Bureaucrats here have infuriated the Japanese public by losing millions of government pension records. This week, someone with a knife and a willingness to kill appears to be hunting them down.

Riddled with stab wounds, the bodies of Takehiko Yamaguchi, 66, and his wife, Michiko, 61, were found Tuesday morning in their home in a Tokyo suburb. Takehiko Yamaguchi was head of the Health and Welfare Ministry's pension division when the national pension system underwent a major record-keeping overhaul in 1985.

On Tuesday evening, Yasuko Yoshihara, 72, wife of former pension bureaucrat Kenji Yoshihara, 76, was stabbed in the chest by a man who came to her home in Tokyo claiming that he worked for a parcel delivery service, police said.

En route to a hospital she said that her husband, who was not at home when the attack occurred, "may be a target and is in danger," according to Japanese news media. Kenji Yoshihara's tenure as head of the Social Insurance Agency in the mid-1980s coincided with the botched computerization of Japan's pension records.

Millions of those records have since gone missing, outraging the elderly and contributing to the resignations of two prime ministers.

The mess continues, and many Japanese fear they may not receive full pension benefits on retirement.

The homes where the knife attacks occurred are about six miles apart. After each assault, a man fled on foot, leaving bloody footprints that police are trying to match.

Authorities said the attacks shared at least three elements: the backgrounds of the victims or intended victims; the use of a knife; and the place where the knifings occurred. In both houses, the victims were stabbed near the front door.

"We should never allow the culprit to commit a third crime, if the two cases are related," said Tsuyoshi Yoneda, chief of the National Police Agency's criminal bureau.

Police announced a nationwide alert for attacks against current and former government officials involved in welfare issues, and security at what is now the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry was boosted.

Prime Minister Taro Aso said Wednesday there is no conclusive evidence that the attacks are related. Still, Aso will cancel his regular morning walk for the time being.

"While I don't know if the two cases are connected, they are indeed distressing," he said. "I would like to pray for the souls of the departed and for the recovery of the wife."

Asked whether the stabbings may have been acts of vengeance or terrorism targeting former welfare officials, Aso told reporters, "I cannot comment at this stage, when we don't know whether they are simply cases of assault or murder or not."

Aso also said there is no firm evidence of a link between the incidents and the work histories of the two former vice ministers. They are believed to have had influential roles in pension policies.

The fatal attack on Yamaguchi and his wife probably occurred Monday evening, police said. The kitchen fan was left on, suggesting that the couple may have been cooking dinner when their attacker came.

Police said a man with bloody shoes fled the Yamaguchi house toward a nearby commuter train station. Police are checking security videotapes at the station.

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