How Did LDP Factions’ Kickback System Begin? At Diet Ethics Session, Officials Deny Knowledge

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura stands while speaking at a session of the House of Representatives Deliberative Council on Political Ethics held Friday.

At a political ethics council session of the House of Representatives on Friday, four former senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction, which is at the center of a scandal over alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law, failed to explain how the practice of kickbacks to faction members began, while also denying their own involvement in turning the kickback money into hidden funds.

Customary practice

“It was passed down like a customary practice.”

Former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Ryu Shionoya, a former executive of the Abe faction, made the remark at the House of Representatives Deliberative Council on Political Ethics, asserting that the origins of the systematic making of “hidden funds” in the faction was unclear.

In the Abe faction, it had been a customary practice to establish huge amounts of such funds by returning part of the proceeds from political fund-raising parties to its members. Shionoya said, “I understand that it was to support young and mid-ranking members who have difficulty raising funds on their own.”

All four former senior officials who attended the session said that they were not involved in any of the faction’s accounting. They also said unanimously that they were unaware that hidden funds were created by omitting kickbacks from the faction’s income and expenditure reports on political funds.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister, who served as the faction’s secretary general, said, “They [kickbacks] were handled by past leaders and accounting managers of the faction for many years.”

Yet, regarding former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a past faction leader who continued to have clout with the faction, Nishimura said: “I have never heard that he was involved. If there is any doubt, it might be good for a third party to confirm it.”

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, also a former secretary general of the faction, stressed: “The secretary general’s duties do not include the management of funds. We are not the ones whose supervisory responsibility would be called for.”

His remarks drew sarcastic comments from opposition parties. As Hitoshi Aoyagi, a member of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) , put it, “So you’re saying it’s all someone else’s fault.”

Yukio Edano, a former leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, referred to the amount of kickback money Matsuno received when he asked, “Where was the ¥8.45 million kept?”

Matsuno replied that the money was kept in his office in the lower house members’ office building.

Edano expressed surprise, saying, “There was as much as ¥8 million in cash kept then? It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Many wished to continue

The session on this day also focused on why and how the practice continued even though former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested that the faction stop the payment of kickbacks.

Nishimura said that while he was the faction’s secretary general in April 2022, Abe said at a meeting of the faction’s executives: “It [the payment of kickbacks] is very opaque and may raise suspicion. It should be stopped itself.”

However, as to why the kickbacks continued after Abe’s death in July of that year, Nishimura stated that he was “not involved in the subsequent discussions” because he was replaced as the faction’s secretary general upon being appointed economy minister in August.

Tsuyoshi Takagi, former chairperson of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee who succeeded Nishimura as secretary general, asserted, “I have never attended any of the discussions [on the matter] and was not involved at all.”

Shionoya recalled, “There were many [in the faction] who wanted it to continue, and I understand that we went along with such calls.”

A political ethics council session is also slated to be held at the House of Councillors, with Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general for the LDP in the upper house, expected to attend.

But his explanations will likely end up being little different from the ones made at the lower house. Some in the LDP express pessimism, with remarks such as, “Even though the council session was held, the executives didn’t appear to accept their accountability, which will only lead to more criticism of our party.”