• Politics & Government

Not Reporting Kickbacks is ‘Long-Standing Practice’; Abe Faction Executives Apologize

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura bows at a press conference after a meeting where the Abe faction decided to disband itself Friday afternoon at the LDP headquarters.

A total of eight people were indicted Friday in connection with the political funds scandal involving factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including the accounting managers of the Abe and other factions and incumbent lawmakers.

The five leading members of the Abe faction and lawmakers who received large amounts of kickbacks have made apologies and excuses one after another, while none of them have provided a concrete explanation about the kickbacks they had received.

‘Didn’t know’

“The payment of kickbacks has been handled like a customary practice by past leaders and accounting managers of the faction for many years,” explained former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, 61, who served as the faction’s secretary general, managing clerical work for the faction, from October 2021 to August 2022, at a press conference at the LDP headquarters Friday.

The Abe faction allegedly paid kickbacks to member lawmakers who sold fundraising party tickets in excess of their quota. Neither the faction nor member lawmakers reported the money as income in their political funds reports.

Concerning the practice of not reporting the money, Nishimura said it was a “long-standing practice” and explained that, apart from the faction leader, the other executives had not been involved. “I myself did not know about it until the issue came to the surface,” he said.

In around April 2022, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was then leader of the faction, reportedly said that the faction should stop the payment of kickbacks and faction executives discussed its discontinuation. However, the faction ended up paying kickbacks to some lawmakers, according to Nishimura.

While Nishimura refrained from mentioning the details of the background of the issue, he emphasized that he had never given any instruction or approval concerning the payment of kickbacks and the nonreporting of that money.

Instructed by faction

Ahead of Nishimura’s press conference, the Abe faction held an extraordinary general meeting at the party’s headquarters on Friday evening. After the meeting, Ryu Shionoya, former education minister and the Abe faction’s cordinator, 73, held a press conference and said, “The faction’s secretariat has told the offices of member lawmakers for many years that they did not need to record the kickbacks.” He admitted that the funds had not been reported under the instruction of the faction.

Shionoya said it was unclear when the payment of the kickbacks had started, saying, “I had no idea about the actual situation around the unreported funds.”

He also emphasized that there was no misuse of the money. “We will consider conducting a probe into how the off-the-books funds were used going forward.”

Tsuyoshi Takagi, 68, secretary general of the faction and former chairman of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee also attended the press conference, said, “I remember that I did not think it was appropriate to pay an amount larger than the quota.”

As for the kickbacks he has received so far, he said, “I used the money for my political activities such as transportation.”

Concerning the political funds scandal, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, 61, issued a statement saying, “I take the situation seriously and deeply apologize as a member who served as the faction’s secretary general in the past.” He explained that, as he understood it, the money he had received from the faction had been handled properly, denying any misuse.

Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors, 61, separately held a press conference at the party’s headquarters. “I left the management of political funds to my secretary,” he said. “It is hard to deny the criticism that my supervision was not sufficient.”

Koichi Hagiuda, 60, former chair of the LDP Policy Research Council, said in a statement, “I would like to provide an opportunity to explain my own political funds in the foreseeable future.”