Senior LDP faction members questioned over political funds scandal

Japanese prosecutors have questioned senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction, including former top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno, on a voluntary basis over a political fundraising scandal, sources close to the matter said Monday.

The faction, formerly led by slain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is alleged to have failed to declare hundreds of millions of yen in revenue from its fundraising parties in political funding reports and created slush funds to reimburse its members.

The prosecutors have also questioned Ryu Shionoya, chairman of the faction, Tsuyoshi Takagi, its secretary general who resigned as LDP Diet affairs chief last week, and Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general of the party in the House of Councillors, the sources said.

Opposition lawmakers stepped up criticism against the LDP, with Akira Nagatsuma, a lawmaker of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, describing the questioning of major ruling politicians as “unprecedented.”

“It is a matter of course for politicians who have been questioned to cooperate with the investigation to uncover the whole picture,” Nagatsuma, the opposition party’s policy chief, told reporters.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a gathering in Tokyo, “It is extremely regrettable to trigger public distrust, and I offer my sincere apologies from the bottom of my heart.”

Kishida, the LDP president, pledged to take necessary measures to restore public trust, create a stable political environment and promote policies, although he did not provide details about the specific steps his government will take.

Matsuno, who stepped down as chief Cabinet secretary earlier this month, previously served as the faction’s secretary general for two years through October 2021. Takagi has been in the post since August 2022.

Shionoya was appointed as chairman of the faction under its collective leadership system in August, about a year after Abe was assassinated during an election campaign speech in July 2022.

Matsuno, Takagi and Seko are suspected of having received more than 10 million yen ($70,000) each over five years through 2022, for which the statute of limitations has not expired under the political funds control law, the sources said.

Shionoya is also alleged to have received several million yen, the sources added.

The faction informed its 99 members, more than a quarter of the LDP’s lawmakers, around the spring of 2022 that it would stop reimbursing funds amid doubts about the practice, according to the sources.

But the plan was withdrawn as many members opposed it, they said.

The prosecutors, who have already searched the faction’s office, are investigating the involvement of the group’s executives, the sources said.

The scandal was ignited by a criminal complaint alleging that five of the LDP’s factions, including one led until recently by Kishida, underreported fundraising party revenues.

The prosecutors suspect the Abe faction, called Seiwaken or the Seiwa policy study group, returned a portion of fundraising party revenues that its members raised from ticket sales, the sources said. The amount is believed to have totaled around 500 million yen over five years through 2022.

The prosecutors are working to build a case against the faction’s accountant, who admitted to not reporting the income in political funds statements when questioned on a voluntary basis, the sources said.

Lawmakers could face criminal charges if they are suspected of having colluded with the accountant, the sources added.

The political funds control law imposes an obligation on the accountants of political organizations to submit financial reports. Penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to one million yen.


Source KYODO