• Yomiuri Editorial

Indictments over Political Funds: LDP Faction Execs Cannot Escape Responsibility for Shady Accounting

Criminal charges were not brought against senior members of a faction of the Liberal Democratic Party over off-the-books revenue from political fundraising parties. However, they bear a heavy responsibility for having overlooked the irregularities for many years, drawing a critical eye from the public.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has indicted without arrest the chief accountant of the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai — also known as the Abe faction, formerly led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — over alleged violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The accountant is suspected of having failed to list more than ¥600 million from the faction’s revenue and other sources in political funds reports from 2018 to 2022.

The faction is alleged to have assigned party ticket sales quotas to its members and kicked back to about 100 members the amount sold in excess of their quotas. Among the faction members, the special investigation squad had earlier arrested House of Representatives member Yoshitaka Ikeda. It has also filed new charges against two other lawmakers in connection to the funds scandal, with one of them indicted without arrest.

These three lawmakers allegedly received more than ¥40 million each in kickbacks and other forms, but failed to record the money in their funds reports.

The special investigation squad appears to have indicted them by taking into consideration the amount of such hidden funds and similar cases in the past. If convicted, they will be disqualified as Diet members. This is a harsh punishment, but it stands to reason considering the malignancy of the act.

On the other hand, the special investigation squad has decided not to indict all lawmakers who have held key positions in the Abe faction. It is likely to have concluded that the accountant was responsible for the failure to record the money in the funds reports, and that evidence was insufficient to prove that the faction executives had instructed the accountant not to list the money.

But if so, why did the accountant need to engage in such irregularities? It is essential to elucidate this point. The faction executives and others also received money kicked backed from party ticket sales in excess of their quotas. It is hard to dispel a feeling of unfairness in the squad’s decision not to charge them.

In the first place, the core of this problem must lie in the operation of the faction, which had used some of the revenue from fundraising parties as “hidden funds” for many years.

In the future, this case could be referred to the Committee for Inquest of Prosecution, in which a case is reexamined by citizens to decide whether an indictment should be made.

It is not only the Abe faction that was engaged in such irregularities. The special investigation squad has also indicted without arrest a former chief accountant of the Shisuikai — also known as the Nikai faction, headed by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai — for having failed to list a total of ¥260 million in its funds reports. And it has issued a summary indictment against a former chief accountant of the Kochikai — known as the Kishida faction, formerly led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida — for having failed to list a total of ¥30 million.

When did the irregularities begin, by whom and for what purpose? Why did the faction executives leave the irregularities to stand? What were the kickbacks used for? Unless these questions are answered thoroughly, it is unlikely that trust in politics will be restored.

The transparency of political funds will be an important issue to be addressed in the next Diet session. The Political Funds Control Law has been revised repeatedly, but scandals have not disappeared at all.

If the situation remains unchanged, there will be no end to problems over politics and money. How should the current rules, which seem as if they are meant to hold only those in charge of accounting accountable, be revised? Thorough discussions are needed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2024)