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Monday
Apr072014

Japan: Rating service to evaluate 3rd-party probes of corporate crime

A group of Japanese lawyers is setting up a rating service to evaluate investigations on corporate scandals, hoping to move Japanese companies away from the third-party panels they typically hire and that appear to lack objectivity.

While the ratings will not carry any legal weight, the group hopes they will encourage more thorough and independent investigations for such crimes as bribery, Reuters reported.

Third-party investigative panels have been widely used to investigate corporate crime, but they often lack legal authority and are vulnerable to manipulation. They have been criticized for rubber-stamping outcomes that are favored by management as well.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, hoping to encourage businesses to invest and operate in Japan, wants to change the impression that its corporate culture will not hold executives and companies accountable for malfeasance.

The group's first meeting was Wednesday. On its agenda is rating a third-party report on a scandal at lender Mizuho Financial Group Inc. that went public last year and concerned an affiliate's loans to organized crime networks. The case showed ties remain between Japanese banks and 'yakuza' (organized crime) gangs.

In the United States, investigations of corporate crime by Japanese companies would be handled by committees picked by independent directors from the board.

In Japan, boards are packed with insiders and there is no clear line of accountability for the investigations.

Nicholas Benes, representative director of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan and quoted by Reuters in its article, believes the rating-service idea leaves a core governance problem unaddressed.

"The priority should be on creating a legal framework to boost the independence and accountability of Japanese boards," he said.

"It's a Band-Aid that is better than not having a Band-Aid, but it is being directed at a wound which is of much larger proportions and needs antibiotics and legal structures as well," he added.

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Julie DiMauro is the executive director of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.