For three months, a media storm has descended upon three factions of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as executives, treasurers, and lawmakers face accusations of participating in a scheme to funnel excess fundraising sales into a slush fund. This week, prosecutors let seven Abe faction executives go, shortly before many factions announced their dissolution.
Damage control: dissembling factions
Three major Liberal Democratic Party factions declared disbandment amid a slush fund scandal at a press conference Friday evening.
On the same day, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad charged eight people from all three factions.
*🏛: lawmaker, 🏦: chief treasurer
Prosecutors indicted without arrest Matsumoto, Ohno, and Nagai. They gave summary indictments to Tanikawa, Sasaki, and Umezawa. Ikeda will remain in custody until January 26th.
All face charges of false accounting for taking part in a scheme that funneled excess ticket sales from fundraising events into a secret slush fund. LDP lawmakers allegedly pocketed kickbacks from the fund.
Collecting proceeds from fundraising party events and paying kickbacks to lawmakers are not illegal if recorded appropriately under the Political Funds Control Law. Violation of this law can result in prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to ¥1M (USD 6,750).
Prosecutors say they can’t find evidence
Prosecutors will not indict seven former executives of the Abe faction, Japanese media reported on January 16th. Prosecutors say they can’t prove a criminal conspiracy between the faction’s senior members and chief treasurers to underreport fundraising party revenue.
The seven executive members are:
- Former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura
- Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno
- Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura
- Former Diet Affairs Committee Chairperson Tsuyoshi Takagi
- Former education minister Ryu Shionoya
- Former House of Councillors Secretary General Hiroshige Seko
- Former Policy Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda
Whistleblower and Law Professor Hiroshi Kamiwaki filed a criminal complaint against the seven with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in November 2023.
In response, prosecutors questioned the seven about their interactions with the Abe faction’s treasurer, Matsumoto. All seven denied any involvement in underreporting funds. They told prosecutors it was “a matter for the faction’s chairperson to handle.”
Mastumoto in turn told prosecutors that he had not received any instructions from executives to keep the faction’s income off the books.
Prosecutors concluded that there was no case to build from the lack of evidence provided by the seven executives and Mastumoto.
Anger and disbelief
Professor Kamiwaki expressed his disappointment. “It’s hard to believe that only the treasurer chief and clerical staff alone can decide not to write the amount of money that should be written in the political fund’s accounting report. Did the prosecution’s investigation really hit a dead end?”
Former Osaka Governor Tōru Hashimoto took to X to share how the prosecution’s decision to drop charges was “unacceptable.”
He wrote, “Ultimately, the law needs to be revised. And even with the current law, the least (the prosecution) should absolutely do is impose additional taxation.”
The Association Against Amendments to the Prosecutor’s Office Law also objected. The organization filed a separate complaint against the Abe faction’s executives.
“There’s no point in punishing only the treasury chiefs and not the lawmakers (who hid funds or received kickbacks) themselves.”
86% of Japanese public wants tougher political financing laws
The kickback scandal is hammering Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s already poor approval ratings. A poll back in December from Sankei Shimbun showed 87% of respondents believed the PM was responsible for responding to the scandal effectively.
A new poll from Sankei this month shows overwhelming support for reforming the laws against illicit kickbacks. A full 86.6% of those surveyed say the laws regulating political funds should be tightened and punishments made more severe.
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 政治資金パーティー事件 国会議員2人ら 8人立件 安倍派幹部は立件見送り. FNN
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 自民派閥の政治資金問題 刑事告発した教授がみた「裏金」. 毎日新聞
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安倍派などキックバック不記載疑い いったい何が？. NHK
 Japan: Corruption scandal threatens PM Kishida’s government. BBC News
 内閣支持率２２・５％、過去最低更新 パーティー裏金疑惑「首相に責任あり」８７％. Sankei Shimbun
 共同世論調査 内閣支持率微増２７％ 裏金、厳格法改正必要８６％ 能登地震６１％が指導力不満. Sankei Shimbun