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Probe clears Mizuho of gangster loans cover-up

Ben McLannahan

A probe into loans to gangsters by Mizuho Financial Group has found evidence of slapdash management but no sign of a deliberate cover-up, paving the way for Japan's number two bank by assets to punish executives with pay cuts rather than the loss of their jobs.

Mizuho has been under a spotlight since the end of September, when it said that about Y200 million ($2 million) of loans originated by a consumer-finance affiliate had found their way to "anti-social forces", without the knowledge of senior managers.

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The scandal deepened after Mizuho admitted that executives including Yasuhiro Sato, company president, had received materials disclosing the problem more than two years earlier.

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At a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, the third-party panel of lawyers commissioned by Mizuho's banking unit to investigate the loans said that the bank "lacked awareness" of the importance of severing ties with criminal gangs, attributing much of the problem to a lack of communication between disparate units.

The bank's original disclosures, which appeared to exonerate senior managers, were "hasty" and "ill-researched," the panel added.

The scandal has awakened concerns in Japan that a campaign to crack down on crime syndicates is being thwarted by lax standards at the nation's financial institutions.

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Isshu Sugawara, head of the treasury and finance committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic party, has described the affair as "outrageous", saying that Mizuho needed to "take resolute measures" to avoid a recurrence.

Japan's Financial Services Agency has ordered Mizuho to improve its control and compliance functions, and the group will attempt to draw a line under the affair by submitting its business improvement plan to the regulator later on Monday.

It is expected to announce pay cuts for managers including Mr Sato, who said this month that he would stand down from the Industrial Competitiveness Council, a group of nine executives hand-picked by Shinzo Abe, prime minister, to design new laws to boost growth in the world's third-largest economy.

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Mr Sato had said he was "in a position" to know about the problem as early as July 2011.

The Japanese Bankers Association has also weighed in, saying it would try to link up with a database run by the National Police Agency to ensure that people with ties to criminal groups are denied access to credit. At present, banks are simply required to ask applicants if they are a member of any gangs.

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Mizuho Financial Group had total assets of Y175 trillion at the end of June, ranking as the world's 15th biggest bank by that measure.

Shares in the group were up about 1 percent by noon in Tokyo, in line with the broader market. Mizuho has underperformed the Topix banking sector by about 3 percent since the scandal broke.