Japan lower house member Sonoura resigns over political funds scandal

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Kentaro Sonoura, a House of Representatives member of the Liberal Democratic Party, speaks during a panel discussion in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 22.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Kentaro Sonoura resigned from the House of Representatives on Wednesday over a political funds scandal, dealing a fresh blow to the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Sonoura’s resignation was submitted to lower house Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda and accepted later the same day.

A fifth-term lower house member from Chiba Constituency No. 5, Sonoura has been engulfed by allegations that his political organizations understated income from political fundraising parties by about ¥40 million.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office intends to bring a summary indictment against Sonoura on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, according to sources.

Sonoura also submitted his resignation from the LDP on Wednesday, and the party’s Ethics Committee accepted it later the same day.

This latest politics and money scandal follows the resignation in recent months of a series of scandal-hit Cabinet members, including Minoru Terada, who was ousted as the internal affairs and communications minister over a funds-related scandal during the recently ended extraordinary Diet session.

Sonoura’s funds management organization and a group of his political supporters are suspected of underreporting income. According to sources, Sonoura’s first state-paid secretary, who is responsible for both organizations’ accounting, told the investigation squad during voluntary questioning that income had been underreported and that Sonoura had been informed of that fact.

Sonoura denied involvement on Nov. 30, shortly after the allegations came to light, saying, “I’m not aware of underreporting.” However, he told investigators this month during questioning that he had known about it, reportedly saying, “If I were to be punished for conspiracy with my secretaries, there is nothing I can do.”

The investigation squad is also expected to bring summary indictments against Sonoura’s first secretary and a former aide who assisted Sonoura in formulating policies.

Sonoura belongs to the LDP faction led by Taro Aso, the party’s vice president. He helped devise policies related to foreign affairs and security, holding such posts as secretary general of the LDP’s task force on economic security.

After serving as a secretary to Aso when he was the internal affairs minister, Sonoura was first elected to the lower house in 2005. He then became state minister for foreign affairs in 2016 and special adviser to the prime minister in 2017 when then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in office. Currently, Sonoura serves as chief director of the lower house’s Committee on Judicial Affairs.

Following Sonoura’s resignation, a lower house by-election will be held on April 23 next year based on the regulations of the Public Offices Election Law. By-elections will also take place on the same day for Yamaguchi Constituency No. 4, where Abe was elected, and Wakayama Constituency No. 1, where a lawmaker resigned to run for prefectural governor.