• Politics & Government

Key Abe Faction Members Spared Indictment, For Now; Citizens Panel Could Yet Force Indictment in Funds

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Friday.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office decided Friday not to indict seven senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction, once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the grounds that there was insufficient suspicion regarding the seven over a Political Funds Control Law violation scandal in connection the Abe faction’s fundraising parties.

Criminal complaints had been filed against the LDP faction alleging that the faction did not record the kickbacks of funds to members in its political funds reports. With the Friday decision, the prosecutors have wrapped up their investigation into the case.

However, it is expected that the party who filed the complaints will seek to review the prosecutors’ decision at the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.

Meanwhile, the prosecutors office has indicted House of Representatives lawmaker Yoshitaka Ikeda, 57, who belonged to the Abe faction, and his policy secretary Kazuhiro Kakinuma, 45, in Tokyo District Court on suspicion of violation of the Political Funds Control Law for not recording large amounts of the kickbacks in political funds reports.

However, the seven senior members of the Abe faction, including former education ministers Ryu Shionoya, 73, and Hakubun Shimomura, 69, were not indicted. Also included in the unindicted seven are the faction’s core “five-man” group — former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, 61; former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, 61; former LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairperson Tsuyoshi Takagi, 68; Hiroshige Seko, 61, former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors; and former LDP Policy Research Committee Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda, 60.

In addition to the seven, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, 86, was also not indicted.

The special investigation squad of the prosecutors office concluded: “From the evidence, facts that they were involved in false writing [of political funds reports] were not found.”

As the party who filed the complaints now intends to file a request for review at the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, it is expected to take a certain time until criminal penalties — if any — are determined against them.

A review at the committee will be held by a panel of 11 citizens chosen by lottery. If the committee finds that a case was “appropriate for indictment” with the agreement of eight or more members, or if it deems the case “inappropriate for non-indictment” with six or more members, the prosecutors will have to relaunch the investigation, after which they will make a new decision on whether or not to indict the suspect.

In cases when the panel’s finding was “inappropriate for non-indictment,” the prosecutors’ decision will become final at that point.

However, if the finding was “appropriate for indictment,” and if the prosecutors still decide not to indict, the panel can review the case again. If they conclude for a second time that the case is “appropriate for indictment,” the suspects will still be subjected to mandatory indictment.

In many cases, it has taken several months for the panel to reach its conclusions.

More than a decade ago, in the political funds law violation case over a political funds management organization for lower house lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa, the committee’s review panel reached a conclusion of “appropriate for indictment” after the prosecutors decided not to indict Ozawa on the grounds there was not sufficient suspicion to do so.

Ozawa was subjected to mandatory indictment, but later a court ruled he was not guilty.

Apart from not recording kickbacks in the faction’s political funds reports, complaints against those senior members have been filed on suspicion of not recording kickbacks they received from the faction in their own funds reports. If the prosecutors decide not to indict them on those suspicions, there is a possibility that the committee will review the decision.

Matsuno offers apology

At a press conference at the Diet Building on Friday, Matsuno offered an apology, saying, “I sincerely apologize for causing political distrust.”

Matsuno explained that he received a total of ¥10.51 million of kickbacks from the Abe faction over a five-year period to 2022 and did not record them in his political funds reports.

It was the first time Matsuno has held a press conference since he resigned from the post of chief cabinet secretary over the scandal last month. “I was not able to speak to matters definitively and I didn’t want to influence the investigation,” he said. “So I was not able to accept a press conference or other matters.”

As for whether he was involved in failing to record kickbacks in the faction’s political funds reports while serving as secretary general of the faction from September 2019 to October 2021, Matsuno said, “I was not involved in management of proceeds from sales of tickets for fundraising parties nor in the compilation of political funds reports.”