Japan’s LDP faction probed over mismanagement of political funds

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Shinzo Abe

1st December 2023 – (Tokyo) In a development that threatens to shake the political landscape of Japan, the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is embroiled in a scandal involving alleged financial mismanagement. The Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s Office is probing the faction formerly led by ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over alleged mishandling of over ¥100 million in fundraising funds.

This investigation adds to the array of challenges facing the current Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, who is already navigating a taxing political year.

Media reports suggest that over a five-year span, the group, comprising 99 lawmakers, methodically distributed income that exceeded a set quota to individual politicians without proper disclosure. This income, raised through fundraising event tickets, purportedly totals over ¥100 million, an amount significantly higher than previously reported.

In an intriguing twist, Ryu Shionoya, the chair of the Abe faction’s leadership committee, initially acknowledged the existence of a quota for ticket sales per lawmaker, determined by their rank or seniority. However, he refuted accusations of underreporting and subsequently retracted his statements, promising to further investigate the matter.

The law permits the redistribution of excess income to individual lawmakers if appropriately recorded, but any omission of such transactions could have legal implications. The Abe faction reportedly amassed over ¥660 million through fundraising events from 2018 to 2022.

The ongoing investigation risks exacerbating Kishida’s political challenges, given the growing public concern over financial improprieties in politics.

Despite Kishida’s non-membership in the faction, five members of its steering committee hold considerable party and Cabinet positions. These include LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda, LDP parliamentary affairs chief Tsuyoshi Takagi, LDP Upper House Secretary-General Hiroshige Seko, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, and economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. The faction also counts agriculture minister Ichiro Miyashita and internal affairs minister Junji Suzuki among its ranks.

Both Miyashita and Suzuki confirmed their awareness of the ticket sales quota but denied receiving any illicit payments. The matter of whether Cabinet members and LDP executives received and adequately reported any kickbacks will be the subject of further investigation.

The Abe faction’s former secretary-general, Matsuno, declined to provide an official government stance on the issue. Similarly, Kishida, currently in Dubai for COP28, stated he would comment upon reviewing the situation.

The Political Funds Control Act, designed to curb embezzlement and promote transparency in political funding, prohibits corporations and private organisations from directly donating to individual politicians. However, a legal loophole allows lawmakers to raise funds through fundraising parties hosted by collective political groups, such as LDP factions.

This scandal has once again highlighted the persistent issue of political funding mismanagement, particularly following an ongoing investigation into the underreporting of political funds collected from 2018 to 2021 by the five largest LDP factions, totalling approximately ¥40 million. The Abe faction was linked to almost half of this amount, totalling ¥19.46 million.

Constitutional Democratic Party leader Kenta Izumi expressed his intention to seek further clarification from Kishida and the LDP. He suggested that the public is likely questioning if these incidents reflect a systematic issue within the LDP’s culture.

The LDP has a history of such scandals. Last year, Chiba Rep. Kentaro Sonoura resigned due to his involvement in a similar scandal. Abe’s prior involvement in a scandal related to the underreporting of funds for cherry-blossom viewing events in Tokyo also attracted significant attention, spotlighting the mismanagement and misuse of political funding.