Kishida Appears Before Ethics Council: Mere Holding of Council Brings No Clarity to Funds Scandal

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida conveyed his sense of crisis over the growing distrust in politics, but he continued to offer only a rehash of his past remarks. The result was far from a recovery of trust.

In response to Liberal Democratic Party factions becoming embroiled in a Political Funds Control Law violation scandal, Kishida and former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda, a former secretary general of the LDP faction led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, appeared before the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics of the House of Representatives.

“Why wasn’t it possible to even follow the obvious rules for clarifying the balance of political funds? I will promote reforms to establish compliance,” the prime minister said. He also expressed his intention to punish lawmakers involved in making hidden funds.

With the revision of the Political Funds Control Law in mind, Kishida also said, “We will create a mechanism that enables us to hold accountable not only those responsible for accounting but also the politicians themselves.”

However, the prime minister had already expressed such plans at meetings of the lower house Budget Committee and on other occasions, and his remarks at the ethics council did not result in clarification of the actual situation of the scandal.

At the council’s session, opposition parties pressed the prime minister on the failure of the LDP faction that he himself had led to record some revenues from fundraising parties in its political funds reports, as well as on the prime minister’s own political funds.

On problems regarding the Kishida faction, the prime minister only repeated his previous answers, saying: “Revenues from fundraising party tickets were not recorded when it was unclear who sold them. It was a clerical error.”

However, prosecutors have filed a summary indictment against a former accounting officer of the Kishida faction. The awkward impression remains that criminal responsibility is being imposed for acts that the prime minister described as mere careless mistakes.

The government’s ministerial code of conduct stipulates that the prime minister and cabinet ministers should refrain from holding large-scale political fundraising parties, but Kishida held a total of seven parties in 2022, having explained, “They were study sessions and there was no problem.”

When former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), criticized the prime minister during the council’s session, saying that Kishida had not reflected on the situation at all, the prime minister assured him that he would not hold any parties while in office. But he did not change his assertion that the study sessions were not in violation of the ministerial code of conduct.

Kishida has also not provided any explanation regarding how the prime minister’s parties were different from parties that the ministerial code states should be eschewed.

Takeda, who appeared after the prime minister, said of the Nikai faction’s failure to record revenues in political funds reports: “I left everything in the hands of the person in charge of accounting. I regret that the checking function did not work.”

As for kickbacks from the Nikai faction, Takeda denied an intention to make hidden funds, saying the kickbacks were mistakenly recorded as revenues from fundraising parties for his own political organization.

CDPJ leader Kenta Izumi said after the session of the council, “It was a waste of time.” But as the opposition had continued to demand that a meeting of the council be held and be open to the public — without any of its own materials to press the issue — aren’t the opposition parties also responsible in this regard?

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2024)