Japan PM Fumio Kishida Set to Sack Govt Spokesperson Over Alleged Off-the-Books Kickbacks

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hirokazu Matsuno

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided to replace Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, effectively sacking him over allegations that he received off-the-books kickbacks taken from political party fundraising revenue, according to several government and ruling bloc sources.

Kishida is expected to expedite arrangements to replace the government spokesperson.

Matsuno is among several senior lawmakers from the Abe faction — the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest political faction once led by late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — suspected of receiving proceeds in excess of quotas for their fundraising party ticket sales, according to the sources.

Replacing the chief cabinet secretary, a key figure in the Cabinet, will inevitably cause instability within the administration, dealing a major blow to Kishida, whose Cabinet is mired in stagnant approval ratings.

Matsuno served as the faction’s secretary general — who oversees practical affairs — from September 2019 to October 2021, but has refused to address the allegations at regular press conferences or on other occasions.

“I’ve taken appropriate action regarding my own political organization,” Matsuno said at a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Friday, adding repeatedly, “I intended to scrutinize the matter and manage it appropriately.”

At a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee the same day, opposition lawmakers called for Matsuno’s dismissal. Kishida responded by saying, “I want him to fulfill his role as the government’s spokesperson.”

For his part, Matsuno said, “I will continue to fulfill my responsibilities.”

However, calls have been intensifying within the government and ruling parties for Matsuno to resign.

“If he’s unable to dispel the allegations, he can’t fulfill his duties as chief cabinet secretary,” said a former cabinet member. “He should thus step down immediately.” Considering the circumstances, Kishida is believed to have concluded that it would be difficult for Matsuno to remain in the post.

If Matsuno resigns, he will become the fifth member of Kishida’s Cabinet to depart due to a scandal since it was formed in October 2021.