Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan says a Japanese conglomerate is not taking seriously Americans' concerns over foreign ownership of cultural assets, but the corporation says Lujan is "Japan bashing."
The exchange between Lujan and entertainment giant MCA Inc. on Thursday was the latest battle in a verbal war that erupted when the secretary, vowing to keep foreign ownership out of federal parks, threatened to cancel MCA's concessions contract at Yosemite National Park unless the company agrees to sell the subsidiary holding the contract.Lujan said Thursday he believes the contract with MCA subsidiary Yosemite Park & Curry Co. was breached when MCA was bought recently by Matsushita Electric Industries of Japan.
If such a breach is substantiated by Interior Department lawyers, the department will seek to have the contract, held by the company for nearly three decades, declared void, Lujan said.
The park concession is only a tiny part of the $7 billion takeover of MCA by Matsushita, but it has raised a firestorm of protests from Lujan, some members of Congress and a number of environmental and conservation groups.
There is no law against foreign ownership of facilities in a national park, but a change in ownership allows for canceling a concessions contract, Interior officials said.
The verbal sparring escalated Thursday when representatives of Matsushita and MCA, accused Lujan of "Japan bashing" and being more interested in forcing the company to transfer its Yosemite assets to the government than finding a suitable U.S. buyer.
"The secretary has tried ... to coerce us and threaten us and do everything else possible to force us to give away an asset. And people don't give away assets worth $100 million," said MCA President Sidney Sheinberg.
While MCA has changed ownership, the park concessions are still run by the same U.S. company as before, the Matsushita representatives argued.
"We would hope the secretary would get off his Japan bashing," Sheinberg said. He contended that Lujan has deliberately blocked an orderly sale of the assets at Yosemite "and tried to extort us to get the park."
Lujan, in turn, accused Matsushita of not taking seriously the concerns of many in the United States over foreign ownership of assets so closely tied to America's culture and national heritage. He said the Japanese displayed arrogance by closing the deal for MCA on Dec. 29 without first resolving the Yosemite issue.