Many Hurdles to Punishing Scandal-Tainted Japanese Lawmakers; LDP Must Determine Who Will Be Sanctioned and How

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting at the Diet on Monday.

Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Fumio Kishida has called for swift punishment of LDP members implicated in a kickback scandal, but there are many issues to be addressed, including the severity of the penalties and how many lawmakers should be sanctioned.

The Deliberative Councils on Political Ethics in both houses of the Diet have failed to ascertain the full picture of the hidden kickbacks from fundraising-party revenues that the Abe faction pursued in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. This also makes it more difficult to punish lawmakers involved in the scandal.

“A fair number of members were involved. The party will decide how to deal with them as quickly as possible,” Kishida emphasized at a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Monday.

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi said at a press conference, “We will take strict measures as soon as possible in consultation with party executives.”

The LDP’s Ethics Committee, comprised of 18 members from both houses, is to discuss the punishment of those concerned. The committee is summoned at the request of the party secretary general, and at least two-thirds of attending members must vote yes for a resolution on penalties to pass.

The future of the party depends greatly on how it handles the disciplinary measures, so the committee will reach a decision in cooperation with LDP leaders.

Severity of punishment

However, deciding the severity of the punishments will not be easy.

Former senior officials of the Abe faction, which is at the center of the scandal, attended sessions of the Deliberative Councils on Political Ethics in both houses earlier this month. However, only limited testimony was heard, and it remains unclear how the kickback practices began and why they continued.

At the Budget Committee meeting, Kishida indicated that the decision on punishment would be hard to make. “While we have no investigative authority, we are determined to fully comprehend the situation and fulfill our political accountability,” the prime minister said.

82 members

It is also difficult to decide how many party members should be punished.

Many LDP members believe that some of the five senior members of the Abe factorion — including former economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and Hiroshige Seko, a former secretary general of the upper house — are significantly responsible for the scandal as they attended a faction executive meeting in August 2022.

They are under fire because the kickbacks continued after they discussed the issue at the meeting, despite being aware that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted it to end.

“They bear a heavy responsibility,” upper house member Shoji Nishida said.

Koichi Hagiuda, former chairperson of LDP’s Policy Research Council and one of the five senior members, has not served as secretary general of the faction like Nishimura and others. However, Hagiuda failed to report a total of ¥27.28 million in funds reports.

“Presenting clear criteria [for who should be punished] is very difficult,” a senior LDP official said regarding the extent of Hagiuda’s responsibility in the scandal.

Eighty-two current Diet members are found to have failed to report kickbacks or to have inaccurately reported them in political funds reports. The necessary procedures by the Ethics Committee may take a long time if the party attempts to punish a broad range of members.