Kishida likely to replace 4 ministers on Dec. 14 amid fundraising scandal

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to replace four ministers, including the top government spokesman, as early as Thursday over their alleged involvement in a political fundraising scandal centering on the ruling party’s largest faction, government sources said.

In a separate development, investigative sources said Tuesday the Liberal Democratic Party faction is suspected to have passed back fundraising party revenue amounting to around 500 million yen ($3.4 million) to members who exceeded their ticket sales quotas over the past five years through 2022.

Similar accusations of underreporting party income emerged for Kishida’s own faction on Tuesday, with a faction official saying the underreporting appears to have been an administrative mistake.

Kishida told reporters that he has instructed party officials to look into the matter and “make an appropriate response.”

Among those embroiled in the scandal, Chief Cabinet Secretary and top spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno is accused of failing to report more than 10 million yen in income earned from events hosted by the intraparty group, according to investigative sources.

On Tuesday, Japan’s House of Representatives voted down a no-confidence motion against Matsuno, submitted by the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which has argued that the scandal is distracting him from his duties as spokesman.

Matsuno holds twice-daily press conferences during the week, but he has refused to comment on the scandal involving him, saying he is answering questions from the press as a government official.

Facing mounting criticism, Kishida, who heads the LDP, is likely to dismiss three other ministers who belong to the faction formerly led by slain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, including economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, the government sources said.

Kishida is also considering demoting five senior vice ministers and six parliamentary vice ministers who are members of the biggest faction soon after the end of the current parliamentary session on Wednesday, the sources said.

The fundraising scandal came under the spotlight following a criminal complaint alleging five LDP factions, including Kishida’s, underreported revenue from political fundraising parties.

LDP factions have traditionally set lawmakers quotas for sales of party tickets, usually priced at 20,000 yen. If they surpass their targets, the extra funds are returned to them as a type of commission in some groups.

Prosecutors are looking into a possible violation of the political funds control law as Abe’s faction allegedly failed to declare its party income in political funding reports to enable it to pool the money in a slush fund, the investigative sources said.

Dozens of lawmakers from the faction headed by Abe until he was assassinated in July 2022 are suspected of accepting reimbursement, with some apparently taking more than 40 million yen.