Yoshimoto chief retracts punishment of scandal-hit comedians

Bowing and at times teary, the president of Japanese entertainment powerhouse Yoshimoto Kogyo Co said Monday he wants to withdraw punishment of two popular comedians over their paid appearance at a party for a group of swindlers and apologized to them for mishandling the aftermath.
Akihiko Okamoto said at a more than five-hour-long press conference in Tokyo he had "caused pain" to Hiroyuki Miyasako and Ryo Tamura by not listening to their concerns, and that he hoped they would come back.
Miyasako, 49, and Tamura, 47, alleged in a joint press conference Saturday that Okamoto had threatened to fire a group of comedians who received remuneration for entertaining "anti-social" people at a party if either of the two made a public apology.
Okamato admitted saying he would "fire all of you" but denied he had intended to pressure them. He said he had meant to convey his feeling that holding a press conference was inappropriate when their conduct was being investigated.
However, he took responsibility for fostering mistrust.
"To Hiroyuki Miyasako and Ryo Tamura, I apologize to both very deeply for (putting them in a situation where) they were forced to do such a press conference," Okamoto said.
On running the Osaka-headquartered company, Okamoto said he wanted to put artists managed by Yoshimoto "first."
"If they would be willing, I would like us to sit at the same table, and listen to their thoughts and rethink how to create the best solution," he said.
Miyasako's contract with the talent agency was terminated Friday. Tamura's contract has been maintained, although he said he mistrusted the company.
Okamoto also apologized to fans of comedians who had received remuneration from anti-social groups or organized crime. He said he would put in place thorough compliance measures.
He and the company chairman, Hiroshi Osaki, will halve their pay for a year, he said.
Okamoto's press conference came two days after Miyasako and Tamura held their joint press conference to apologize for attending a year-end party hosted by a purported crime group in 2014 without consulting the company and telling lies when the scandal first broke out by a gossip magazine in June.
It took a month and a half for Yoshimoto to organize its press conference to explain the scandal.
Miyasako and Tamura had attended the party with nine other comedians, and each received remuneration, including 1 million yen for Miyasako and 500,000 yen for Tamura.
Yoshimoto suspended all of them last month but allegedly rejected Miyasako and Tamura's repeated request to hold a press conference.
Miyasako divulged at their joint press conference Saturday that Okamoto told them he "will fire all" of the suspended comedians if they were to publicly apologize over the matter.
The company also requested both earlier this month to choose between termination of their management contracts or holding the press conference to announce their retirement, they said.
The agency had instructed them to practice questions and answers prepared by the agency if they decided to carry out their proposal.

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