Japanese mayor apologises for asking officials to set fire to a building

Akashi Mayor Fusaho Izumi bows at a press conference in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, on Tuesday to apologize for making abusive remarks to city officials.
PHOTO: The Japan News/Asia News Network

KOBE, Japan - The mayor of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, told city officials to set a building on fire in 2017 because he was irritated by a delay in negotiations with the building's owner, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Mayor Fusaho Izumi - who has been known as a "human rights mayor" - used this violent language to officials in charge of the negotiations. The city wanted to remove the building as part of a project to expand a national road.

"Set fire [to the building you can't reach an agreement on]. Burn it down," he was quoted as saying.

Izumi, 55, admitted to making the remarks in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday. "I spoke in anger. My behaviour was out of bounds for a mayor," he said.

The project to expand National Highway Route 2 started in fiscal 2010, and the central government entrusted Akashi with acquiring land and other operations. In fiscal 2012, the city started the process of land acquisition, setting a target completion date of December 2016.

However, after learning that negotiations over a building in front of JR Akashi Station had been delayed, Izumi summoned the officials in charge to his office in June 2017. He took offence at their explanation that they had yet to reach an agreement with the owner over the selling price.

"What on earth have you been doing for seven years? Don't mess with me. Are you an idiot?" he shouted. He went on to say: "Set [the building] on fire today. You, set it on fire, then get arrested. Go there right now to burn it down. Pay compensation for the damage on your own."

The negotiations later concluded and the building was dismantled in spring 2018. Road expansion work is expected to finish around 2020.

Several city officials were in the room when the mayor shouted these remarks. An audio recording of the conversation was sent to The Yomiuri Shimbun and the city government.

During the interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday, Izumi admitted that he made the recorded remarks during the conversation.

"I blew up because they hadn't negotiated the selling price even after the scheduled completion date had passed," he told The Yomiuri Shimbun. "My behaviour was obviously out of bounds for a mayor. I'm sorry." He said he had apologised to the officials he shouted at.

On Tuesday, Izumi held a press conference at the city office, saying: "What I said went beyond 'power harassment' and there is no excuse for that. I think my fitness as a mayor will be called into question. I am seriously reflecting on my conduct."

Izumi said he will take responsibility for his behaviour to a certain extent, including voluntarily returning some of his mayoral salary to the city. However, he once more indicated his intention to run in the mayoral election this spring.

During the press conference, he also admitted that he told the officials: "You offer ¥10 million (S$124,000) each. Sell your own houses and use the money to pay [the damages]."

The mayor also said he used such abusive language as: "Keep sitting [outside the building] with your head lowered, and get [an agreement] within a week," and "Take responsibility for this. I'll never forgive you even if you submit a resignation letter."

After serving one term as a then Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Representatives, Izumi was elected as the mayor of Akashi in 2011. He is now in his second term.

He is qualified as a lawyer, and has been known as a mayor who laboured for human rights, for example working for an ordinance to help prevent repeat offences by former convicts.