A candidate for prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, was implicated in the Japanese Lockheed scandal yesterday by a former Lockheed official's statement that was read in a Tokyo courtroom.
A statement by former Lockheed president A. Carl Kotchian suggested that in 1972 Nakasone intervened with government officials in behalf of Lockheed, which was seeking to sell Tristar passenger jets to Japan biggest domestic airline.
Nakasone promptly denied the charge and said Kotchian either had lied or had been misinformed by others.
Although it had been previously reported in the press, the incident's recounting in court testimony is expected to have a major effect on the selection Dec. 1 of a prime minister by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and on later Japanese politics.
A rising star in politics, the conservative Nakasone had only last week announced his candidacy in a challenge to the incumbent, Takeo Fukuda.
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He is not expected to oust Fukuda, but a strong showing this time would make Nakasone a serious challenger when Fukuda steps down. A recent public opinion poll by the Mainichi newspapers found him trailing Fukuda by only three percentage points among the general public, although he trailed further in a poll of party members, who will make the selection.
The Japanese opposition parties promptly demanded that Nakasone be called before a special Lockheed probe committee of the parliament for questioning. He had denied the charge before the committee last year.
Nakasone, who is also chairman of his party's executive board, is the second major political figure to be implicated in the Lockheed scandal. The other is former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who is on trial for bribery, accused of having accepted nearly $1.6 million to help Lockheed's cause.
The accusation against Nakasone first surfaced in press reports in late 1976 and was put on the court record yesterday in the Kotchian deposition. The deposition was taken in the United States by former judge with Japanese prosecutors present under an agreement worked out after Kotchan refused to testify here.
It related an incident in October, 1972, when Kotchian was desperately trying to arrange a deal by which All Nippon Airways would buy the big new airbuses made by Lockheed. On Oct. 5, Kotchian said, he was advised that the arrangement had been made for his company's Tristars to be bought at a later date by Japan Air Lines while Douglas aircraft would make the sale to All Nippon airways.
The arrangement displeased Kotchian, who wanted the immediate Kotchian, who wanted the immediate sale to All Nippon Airways, and he contacted his secret consultant. Yoshio Kodama, a right-wing leader and politically influential figure with many contacts in the Liberal Democratic Party.
In his presence, Kotchian testified Kodama called a man on the telephone and began discussion of the airline transactions. Through his interpreter, who heard the call being placed, Kotchian said he learned the call was to Nakasone. During the 15-minute call, the man on the other end asked many questions about the aircraft deal.
After the call, Kodama told Kotchian the man he had contacted would check with several government officials the next morning about the alleged arrangement that excluded Lockheed from the All Nippon Airways sale.
In his diary for the next day, Kotchian wrote the following note: "N. has corrected the situation." The letter "N" referred to Nakasone, he testified. He also testified that his interpreter and assistant, Taro Fukuda told him that Nakasone had "corrected the situation."
Kotchian testified that message meant that Lockheed would not be required to take the JAL order, leaving the American company still in the running for the All Nippon Airways contract.
At a news conference shortly after the testimony was read in court, Nakasone said that such a conspiracy "does not exist at all. There was no conspiracy."
He said Kotchian may have been lying to impress his company with his work in Tokyo or that he had misunderstood what was happening because he does not speak Japanese.
Nakasone said it was possible that someone "used my name" and then "let him (Kotchian) believe a lie."
At the time of his alleged intervantion, Nakasone was minister of international trade and industry and already the leader of a sizeable faction in the parliament.