2 LDP Factions’ Offices Searched: Where Did the Off-the-Books Funds Disappear to?

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office launched compulsory investigations of a Liberal Democratic Party faction once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and another LDP faction led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai in connection with allegations arising from political fundraising parties held by the factions. Thorough investigations to determine the circumstances behind the incidents are essential.

The squad searched the offices of the Abe faction, known as Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai, and the Nikai faction, known as Shisuikai. The two factions are alleged to have imposed quotas on the sales of tickets for fundraising parties to faction member lawmakers when they held the events, and then kicked back the excess amounts from the quotas to members.

The Abe faction is suspected of failing to record, or falsely reporting, income and expenditures in connection with the kickbacks in the political funds reports of both the faction and member lawmakers, in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The total amount of the kickbacks is said to have reached ¥500 million over the five-year period from 2018 to 2022.

The Nikai faction, meanwhile, is suspected of underreporting ¥100 million or more in party income in its political funds reports over the five-year period.

In both cases, the party factions were the staging point to create hidden funds. Such accounting procedures may have been conducted systematically over many years. The special investigation squad is likely to focus its probes on the factions, believing atrocious improprieties occurred at both factions, leading to large amounts of off-the-books funds.

The focus of the investigation will be on whether the member lawmakers themselves can be held criminally responsible. Did they know that the money was not entered into the funds reports? Was there any reporting from, or approval or instructions given to the accounting managers? The full picture must be revealed through questioning and analysis of the seized materials.

What is incomprehensible is why income from fundraising parties was not entered in political funds reports. There is no legal problem with factions raising funds through parties or giving money to Diet members.

So, why was it necessary to hide the income and the payments to members? What was the money kicked back to lawmakers used for? Clarification of such aspects is essential in determining the severity of the case.

Kochikai, an LDP faction that was led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, is also suspected of reporting tens of millions of yen less than its actual income from fundraising parties on political funds reports. Kishida has said, “I will deal with the issue as a problem of the whole party.” He should look into the issue thoroughly and fulfill his accountability.

The Political Funds Control Law, which was enacted in 1948, has been revised every time the issue of politics and money has emerged, but wrongdoings have not been eliminated. All politicians should be aware that the public’s distrust of politics has never been higher.

If the current legal system is inadequate, it needs to be revised urgently. It is important to increase the transparency of political funds and to change the nature of politics, which is said to cost money.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 20, 2023)