Media watch: Prominent pundit linked to husband’s shady business deal

Lully Miura speaking in the Diet in 2020

On Jan. 20, some news outlets reported that Tokyo prosecutors had raided the offices of an investment company that promotes solar power generation. Though the raid by itself was no big deal—prosecutors carry out raids of companies suspected of business malfeasance all the time—it received a fair amount of scrutiny on the internet because the president of the company is married to Lully Miura, a prominent media pundit.

In the initial reports the company president was not identified, but various people on social media were quick to name him—Kiyoshi Miura. As it turns out, Miura’s home was also raided. Kyodo News said that the reason for the raids were that the “president of Tribay Capital” had negotiated with another Tokyo company about the construction of a solar power generation facility in Hyogo Prefecture, but that such plans appear to have fallen through even though the company had already given Tribay ¥1 billion in startup money. 

The day after the raid, Lully Miura issued a message on the home page of her own company, Yamaneko Research Institute, clarifying her position. She said that while “some of the reports were correct” and that her husband’s office was indeed raided, she herself was not involved in the operations of his company, and therefore would not comment on it. However, she went on to say that she will fully cooperate with the investigation and “as a family member” support her husband.

According to the media criticism web magazine Litera, the Tribay raid was not exactly a surprise to some internet news media, which have been following Kiyoshi’s business dealings for a while now. These media had been talking about competing fraud allegations for months, but mainstream media organizations—though they knew of the allegations—had held back until prosecutors had made their move. 

The matter apparently started in 2019, when Tribay convinced a company called Meta Capital (no relation to the Facebook parent company) to invest in its “mega-solar generation facility” in Fukuzaki, Hyogo Prefecture. Tribay told Meta that it had received permission from residents surrounding the proposed site to go ahead with the project and completed all the necessary paperwork to lease the land from its owners. In June of that year, Meta transferred ¥1 billion to a company that was partnering with Tribay on the project. 

Two years later, the news website Facta reported that Tribay still retained the bulk of the initial investment in the project. However, the project had gone nowhere in those two years. According to Facta’s investigation, Tribay had signed a contract for the rights to the land used for the facility from a Kyoto company in Jan. 2019 for ¥500 million, as Tribay said, but a month later the contract was cancelled and the rights to the land shifted to another company based in Osaka. In June, Meta transferred its ¥1 billion investment, apparently unaware of the cancellation. Later, Tribay returned ¥200 million as an “excess payment” along with another sum in fees. 

The rest of the money has remained in Tribay’s possession while the project appears to have stalled. Tribay filed a civil lawsuit against Meta, a move that one reporter suggested to Litera might have been carried out to preempt Meta’s accusation of criminal fraud, thinking that Tokyo prosecutors would do nothing while the civil case went forward, but the prosecutors raided Tribay anyway, which prompted the reporter to speculate that “they had solid evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”

But another reason may have been the involvement of some big names. One of the founders of Meta was the late Nobuyuki Idei, former chairman and CEO of Sony. Moreover, Meta’s legal consultant is attorney Motonari Otsuru, who himself was once the head of the Special Investigation Team of the Tokyo prosecutor’s office. (His most famous case was the prosecution of Livedoor, which led to the imprisonment of its CEO, Takafumi Horie, though as a private lawyer he also represented Carlos Ghosn.)

Nevertheless, what interests Litera, as a media watchdog, as well as the various parties on social media who pay close attention to any breaking news that involves celebrities, is the power couple at the center of the controversy. Though Lully claims she has nothing to do with Kiyoshi’s business, that wasn’t always the case. Kiyoshi was once a director at Yamaneko, but resigned his post in March 2019—three months after Tribay started negotiating the investment deal with Meta. So if prosecutors trace the criminal activity back to Jan. 2019, then Kiyoshi’s concurrent involvement with Yamaneko may be up for investigation. In addition, in October 2019, Tribay moved its office to the same one occupied by Yamaneko, according to the company’s registration. The two companies thus have the same address, which was also shared by something called the Energy Security Research Center, of which Kiyoshi was also a trustee along with Lully’s younger sister; that is, until the center was dissolved at the end of 2020. 

The point Litera is trying to make is that, despite Lully’s statement on her website, the entire affair seems to be centered on a group that has the “image” of a family-owned corporate enterprise. 

This image is fortified by the fact that Lully has, according to Litera, gone out of her way to promote solar energy in her own activities as a media pundit and consulting scholar. She was appointed by former prime minister Yoshihide Suga in 2020 to a special panel to study “growth” in which she strongly advocated for a concerted shift to solar power generation, saying land regulations should be eased so that more solar panels can be installed on vacant farm land. 

What makes this advocacy especially interesting is that Lully’s brief as a pundit has always leaned toward economic and social interests closer to the hearts of conservatives, who tend to downplay renewable energy schemes in favor of restarting more nuclear power plants. Litera’s own editorial slant seems to lean toward solar and other renewable power sources and away from nuclear, so basically they have no problem with Lully’s position, but only if they take it at face value. In light of her husband’s business, Litera finds that difficult to do, since there seems to be a clear conflict of interest. Her image in the media is that of an informed academic, but now people who are familiar with her work, whether they lean to the left or the right, are wondering if she’s just pursuing her own interests.

The potential for Schadenfreude is ripe, given Lully’s and Kiyoshi’s backgrounds. Both are University of Tokyo alumni who married while they were still students. Upon graduation, Kiyoshi went on to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He quit the government after two years and joined McKinsey and then Bain Capital. In 2014, he co-founded Tribay, and eventually became its president and CEO. Lully first drew attention when an essay she wrote as a student won an award from the government. She went on to earn a PhD in law and politics from Todai, and quickly became a visible presence on TV where she discussed a wide range of topics related to international politics. Her think tank “investigates and analyzes” policies about foreign and domestic political economics as well as social and peace-related issues. Her mission, according to Litera, is “social enlightenment.” She was also close to the late former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who appreciated her work, and she, in turn, often advocated for his policies in essays and editorials written in both Japanese and English. 

Added to this intellectual cachet in the public imagination is the Miuras’ material circumstances. According to media critic Yuko Shimizu on his daily YouTube talk show, Lully has often said she has never lived outside of Tokyo’s Minato Ward (she was born in Kanagawa Prefecture), thus lending her even more of an elite air. She and Kiyoshi now live on the top floor of a residential apartment building in Roppongi Hills. The registration for their respective companies is in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, where they have a second home. 

Consequently, the news of Kiyoshi’s predicament has sparked a lot of bashing from right wing elements on the internet, who see her support for solar energy as being both mercenary and hypocritical. In that regard, she isn’t necessarily alone. Other nominally conservative media figures, such as former Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and present Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, also support solar energy, and they’ve been bashed, too, but the enmity aimed at Lully Miura and, to a lesser extent, Koike, is also fueled by the kind of inherent misogyny you find among rightist Internet trolls. 

But the raid on Tribay has also brought forth other critics, including fellow scholars/pundits who say that Lully was never really much of a writer or thinker; that she was convenient for those in power, like the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, because she was a young, attractive woman who spoke articulately and with seeming authority about topics that aligned with their views. Some of this criticism should be taken with a grain of salt since it didn’t really materialize until after Shinzo Abe died, thus removing one of her most formidable champions. Then again, according to Litera the mainstream media has been lukewarm about the raids and the Tribay story because Lully was a fixture in their realm for many years. She even wrote a regular column for one of the weeklies, which tend to cover matters that the regular media avoids—so far, the weeklies and tabloids have written about Kiyoshi, but without necessarily connecting it to Lully. As it stands, much of the media still has a stake in her, it seems. 

Postscript, Feb. 4: After posting the above it came to our attention that Lully Miura has, since the raid, been blackballed by the TV outlets that were so keen on having her on their talk and variety shows in the past. She hasn’t appeared on recent installments of TV Asahi’s Asa Made Nama TV or Fuji TV’s Mezamashi 8, two shows where she was a regular. According to Yuko Shimizu, she also hasn’t appeared anywhere in her usual commentator capacity, though she’s been a TV fixture for years. No explanation has been offered by anyone in the mainstream media about this turn of events. And except for marginal players, like Shimizu, nobody has even mentioned it.

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