Prosecutors Search Sites Linked to Scandal-Hit LDP Factions
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Prosecutors Search Sites Linked to Scandal-Hit LDP Factions

Special investigators from the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s Office raided the offices of two Liberal Democratic Party factions on Tuesday morning as part of their widening investigation into a political funds scandal that has rocked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration.

The raids involved the offices of the 99-member Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai faction, once led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the 40-member Shisuikai, led by former LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai. They were the latest development in an ongoing investigation by Tokyo prosecutors into allegations that unreported kickbacks from the sale of tickets for political party fundraisers over a five year period through 2022 may have amounted to around ¥500 million for the Abe faction and over ¥100 million for the Nikai faction.

The scandal revolves around the issue of unreported kickbacks. Faction members were given a quota for selling tickets for fundraising parties. Revenue from ticket sales that exceeded their quota was kicked back to them but kept off the books in violation of the political funds law.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Kishida, citing his responsibilities as prime minister, refrained from commenting on the details of the investigation. “But I believe the LDP must also work, with a strong sense of urgency, to restore public confidence,” he said.

LDP Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi expressed “deep regret” over the raids at a news conference Tuesday morning. “We take this matter very seriously and will take the necessary measures to deal with it while closely monitoring future investigations,” Motegi told reporters.

The scandal has hit the Abe faction particularly hard. Dozens of its faction members may have received kickbacks, including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and former trade minister Yasutoshi Nishimura — both of whom were replaced last week.

Other Abe faction members caught up in the scandal, including LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda, parliamentary affairs committee Chairperson Tsuyoshi Takagi, and Upper House Secretary-General Hiroshige Seko, announced their resignations last weekThey are expected to be replaced when Kishida makes party personnel changes on Friday.

While prosecutors continue to investigate how much money was kept off the books, senior Abe faction members, including Matsuno, have been accused of receiving more than ¥10 million over the five year period.

Other Abe faction members may have received much more, including Upper House member Yasutada Ono, who is suspected of receiving about ¥50 million, while Lower House members Yoshitaka Ikeda and Yaichi Tanigawa are believed to have received around ¥40 million each.

Investigating the scandal is an unusually large team of Tokyo prosecutors. They have already questioned lawmakers’ secretaries, who have admitted the kickbacks were received but that they failed to record the income.

How the funds were used and why they went unrecorded remains unclear. On Saturday, following the conclusion of parliament on Wednesday, prosecutors began voluntary questioning of lawmakers on how they used the money, to determine whether it was spent on legally recognized political activities or something else.

Prosecutors are expected to move forward with their investigation over the holiday period and up to the start of the next parliamentary session, likely in late January, and will then face a decision on whether or not to prosecute individual lawmakers.

The scandal has also led to calls from the ruling and opposition parties to use the next session of parliament to revise the political funds control law and make political fund reporting rules stricter and more transparent, with the issue likely to trigger an intense debate.

On Wednesday evening, Kishida was asked about that possibility. While he did not deny that it was one option, he did not provide details as to what kind of reforms might be considered.

Prosecutors’ investigation of the Nikai faction, meanwhile, could spell trouble for Kishida as well.

Asked by reporters Tuesday about Nikai faction members in his Cabinet and whether he felt it was appropriate for them to remain in their posts, Kishida said the new Cabinet appointments made on Thursday were not based on factional needs but upon the qualifications of each individual and with the aim of reassuring the public.

Also Tuesday, Hanako Jimi, a Nikai faction member who serves as state minister for Okinawa and the Northern Territories as well as for the 2025 Osaka Kansai Japan Expo, denied receiving kickbacks, telling reporters she continued to support the Kishida administration, though she avoided a direct answer to a question about whether she might leave the Nikai faction.

Source : Japan Times