Mike Huckabee brought an unusual guest to his meeting with a former Japanese prime minister, the office of Shinzo Abe, now the country's opposition leader, is claiming.
In a 2008 visit to Japan, the former Arkansas governor showed up with a Yakuza money man known as the "Black Market King" who was later arrested for ties to the Japanese mob. A photograph of the encounter has recently emerged and is being used as an attack line in Japanese politics.
Huckabee, now a popular talk-show host, visited Japan just three months after he withdrew his bid to become the Republican nominee for president.
"Janet and I are in Japan this week where I'll be speaking on several college campuses, meeting with business leaders, and meeting with government officials, some of whom I know from previous trips here during my tenure as Governor. We are delighted at the warm welcome we've already received and especially amazed at the depth at which people in Japan follow the American elections," he wrote on the Huck PAC blog at the time.
In another Huck PAC blog post, the former governor wrote about meeting professors at Tohoku University, the governor of Hokkaido, and speaking at the Chamber of Commerce.
One meeting not noted on his blog was Huck's audience with Abe, who was prime minister of Japan from 2006 to 2007 and who is now the leader of Japan's opposition Liberal Democratic Party. A photo of that meeting surfaced this week in Japan, showing Huck smiling alongside Abe and another man, Icchu Nagamoto, whom the Tokyo Reporter describes as "a financial broker for the Yamaguchi-gumi, who was arrested earlier this year for violating money-lending laws."
The Yamaguchi-gumi are Japan's largest and most infamous Yakuza organization and one of the largest criminal organizations in the world.
The Japanese tabloid Shukan Post first published the photo, which is apparently hanging on the wall of the home of an unidentified Tokyo resident. Abe's office has said that Huckabee brought Nagamoto to the meeting and that Abe has never met him since.
Huckabee's communications director Sylvester Smith told The Cable today that Huckabee has has no ties to the Yakuza or to Nagamoto.
"The governor was in Japan on a speaking tour. All of his appearances and meetings were set up by a third party," Smith said. "Governor Huckabee had never met Mr. Nagamoto prior to that meeting, and he has not had any contact with him since that day."
Smith declined to say who put them in the room together or whether Huckabee or Huck PAC has any financial relationship with Nagamoto or his various business enterprises.
"There is a possibility that Nagamoto, who is a sort evil financial whiz and money lender for the Yamaguchi-gumi, might have approached Huckabee and tried to convince him to go in on a business deal," said Jake Adelstein, the author of Tokyo Vice, an insider's look at the Yakuza in Japan. "Nagamoto was a key figure in the Inoue Kogyo fake capital increase case a few years ago that was prosecuted last year."
Nagamoto is on trial for allegedly violating lending laws related to the financial fundraising scam, Adelstein said.
This encounter is not Huckabee's only bizarre connection with Japanese politics. In 2009, The Cable reported that Huckabee was to be the featured lecturer for a cruise with a controversial Japanese general who is known for defending Japan's World War II atrocities.
Huckabee was in discussions to interview the organizer of that cruise, Toshio Tamogami, the former Japanese Air Force chief of staff who was fired in 2009 after creating an international incident by writing in an essay that Japan was "not an aggressor nation" in WWII. Huckabee's participation in the event was scuttled after The Cable's report came out.
"There seems to be an unholy alliance between Japan's ultra-right and the American right," said Mindy Kotler, the founder of Asia Policy Point, a non-profit organization that does research on Japan. "They agree on an aggressive anti-China defense policy, but little else. If the two compared values they would frighten each other."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.