LDP Considers Punishing 4 Abe Faction Members over Kickbacks; Kishida Escapes Censure

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Liberal Democratic Party’s headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The Liberal Democratic Party is considering taking heavy disciplinary action against four members of the Abe faction who failed to stop kickbacks to faction members. Punishment could include not endorsing the members in elections or suspension from the party, according to several senior members of the party.

The four are former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministers Ryu Shionoya and Hakubun Shimomura; former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura; and Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors. The four had attended an executive meeting to discuss the faction’s response to the payment of kickbacks.

However, the party will not punish Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also the president of the party and formerly the chairman of the Kishida faction, as no hidden funds were found to have been created within his faction.

On Thursday and Friday, Kishida met with members of the party’s leadership to discuss the direction of the disciplinary measures.

The party’s leadership has taken a serious view of the fact that the four, who could have stopped the illegal kickbacks, failed to do so, and concluded that they bear the greatest political and moral responsibility.

In April 2022, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gathered Shionoya and Shimomura, then deputy chairmen of the faction; Nishimura, then secretary general of the faction; and Seko, who was chairman of the Abe faction in the upper house, and told them to stop the faction’s payment of kickbacks, which was leading to the creation of illegal off-the-books funds.

However, following Abe’s death in July of the same year, the four gathered to discuss how to deal with the situation but did not decide to stop the refunds.

The party’s rules stipulate eight levels of disciplinary action. A prevailing view within the leadership is that the four “should not be endorsed at least in the next election.” Refusal to endorse is the fourth heaviest punishment, but the even heavier penalty of suspending the four’s party membership is also being considered.

Yet, the leadership does not plan to expel the four from the party, which would make it difficult for them to return to the party. Many also believe it would be difficult to recommend the four leave the party.

The special investigation squad of Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has decided not to bring an indictment against the four. It is unusual for the party to punish Diet members who have not been charged with a crime.

Meanwhile, a former accountant for the Kishida faction has been charged with underreporting on the faction’s political funds reports. However, the transfer of kickbacks from the faction was recorded in the political funds reports of both the faction and the faction’s members.

The party has concluded that the Kishida faction was less at fault than the Abe faction and that the issue does not call the prime minister’s conduct into question.

The party’s Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Kanazawa on Friday, “We will not target [for disciplinary action] those lawmakers who have not made any omissions in their political funds reports.”

A total of 82 lawmakers in the party are confirmed to have omitted kickbacks given to them by their faction from their political funds reports. The money should have been recorded as proceeds from political fundraising parties.

The party leadership will also speed up its examination of other members of the Abe faction who failed to record kickbacks in their political funds reports. The examination will include the extent to which they should be punished, and a decision will be made as early as early April.

Kickbacks were also handed out in the Nikai faction, where a secretary to the party’s former Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai was given a summary indictment for failing to enter the relevant information on Nikai’s political funds report. The party is set to make a careful decision on punishment for Nikai.