Japan Prime Minister to Interview Ex-Faction Executives Believed to Bear Heavy Responsibility for Funding Scandal

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
From left: Ryu Shionoya, Hakubun Shimomura, Yasutoshi Nishimura and Hiroshige Seko

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided as president of the Liberal Democratic Party to interview four LDP members who appear to bear a particularly heavy responsibility for an ongoing political funding scandal, party sources told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Kishida will hear from former education ministers Ryu Shionoya and Hakubun Shimomura; former economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura; and Hiroshige Seko, a former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors. All four were executives of the Abe faction, an intraparty group led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that has been criticized for alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law.

The LDP is considering either not endorsing the four members in elections, or imposing harsher penalties, for their significant involvement in kickbacks from the Abe faction’s fundraising party income.

By taking the initiative to personally question them, Kishida is apparently seeking to clarify what happened with this habitual misconduct and to directly denounce their responsibility as former executives of the faction. The LDP plans to begin the hearings as early as Tuesday and to decide on punishments for the four, and other party members, in the first week of April.

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and General Council Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama will also attend the hearings. Based on their findings, the party will hold a meeting of its Ethics Committee to formally decide on the punishment. Kishida plans to hold a press conference following the decision and explain the details such as the reasons for the penalities.

“Some aspects are still unclear, and more effort is needed to confirm them,” Motegi told reporters during a visit to Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Saturday. “We want to reach a conclusion as soon as possible about what political responsibility should be taken and how the matter should be resolved.”

In February, the LDP interviewed 82 member lawmakers, including the four Kishida will speak with, who did not accurately report kickbacks in their political fund reports. A team led by Moriyama was present, as were lawyers.

The interviews with the four are expected to ask again about the content of talks held in August 2022 following the death of then faction leader Abe, and to question them about their awareness of their own political responsibility.

Abe is believed to have ordered the four to stop the faction’s payment of kickbacks in April 2022, when Shionoya and Shimomura were deputy chairmen of the faction, Nishimura was its secretary general, and Seko was chairman of the Abe faction in the upper house.

Abe died in July 2022. The four discussed how to deal with kickbacks in the following month but did not decide to stop them. The party leadership believes that the four bear a particularly heavy political and moral responsibility for not actively working to stop the practice.