• Politics & Government

Japan Investigators Begin Questioning Abe Faction Lawmakers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Public Prosecutors Office building, which houses the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, is seen in Chiyoda, Ward, Tokyo.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has begun interviewing members of the 99-strong Abe faction in connection with allegations that the Liberal Democratic Party faction created hidden funds from cash generated by political fundraising parties, according to sources.

The voluntary interviews are planned to be conducted over the weekend, the sources said.

The investigators are expected to question lawmakers suspected of receiving large kickbacks, confirm the sums involved, inquire how such funds were used, ask why related information was not included in official reports and ascertain each individual’s awareness of the alleged misconduct.

According to the sources, the faction is suspected of kicking back cash amounts that exceeded each members’ sales quotas of tickets for fundraising parties. Neither the faction nor the recipients recorded the kickbacks as income in their political funds reports, making such monies “off-the-books” funds.

The alleged kickbacks are estimated to have totaled around ¥500 million over a five-year period from 2018 through 2022.

The prosecutors’ special investigation squad investigating the allegations — comprising about 50 prosecutors, including those from other offices — has targeted the faction’s accounting staff and secretaries of lawmakers affiliated with the faction, the LDP’s largest such group, which was previously led by late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The prosecutors’ questions are expected to clarify the connection between ticket sales and the amount of undocumented funds.

It is thought that dozens of the faction’s members will be quizzed. Among the Abe faction members, former secretary general Hirokazu Matsuno, 61, and Tsuyoshi Takagi, 67, are suspected of receiving kickbacks and creating hidden funds. More than 10 of the faction’s members, including Matsuno and Takagi, are suspected of having received more than ¥10 million each.

Meanwhile, House of Councillors member Yasutada Ono, 64, is suspected of receiving kickbacks and creating hidden funds totaling more than ¥50 million. House of Representatives Yoshitaka Ikeda, 57, and Yaichi Tanigawa, 82, also are suspected of receiving kickbacks totaling more than ¥40 million.

It also has been learned that investigators have questioned faction members’ secretaries, several of whom reportedly stated that the faction instructed them not to include monies returned from the faction in their income and expenditure reports.

The prosecutorial squad is considering bringing a case against the faction’s head accountant on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law by failing to record information and making false entries in the funds’ reports.

During questioning, the accounting official reportedly admitted to having not recorded the kickbacks in the faction’s reports and also explained how the kickback scheme worked.

Kickback-related suspicions have also surfaced in connection with the Nikai faction (led by Toshihiro Nikai) and the Kishida faction (until recently headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida).

Investigators plan to focus their probe into the Abe faction, which is suspected of having created large off-the-books hidden funds in a systematic manner.