Liberal Democratic Party Set to Ask Ex-Faction Execs to Go; Penalty Would Be Harshest So Far in Political Funds Scandal

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The Liberal Democratic Party is set to impose the second-most severe level of punishment over the ongoing political funds scandal and will soon decide which of four former Abe faction executives should be asked to leave the party, according to several senior LDP members.

The ruling party has already decided that the four members should at least face a denial of election endorsement — the fourth-strictest disciplinary action under party regulations and the heaviest so far for people involved in alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law.

The LDP is believed to have taken public criticism and other factors into consideration in its latest decision.

After working out the details and the level of disciplinary measures to be applied to the four members, the LDP plans to hold a meeting of its Party Ethics Committee as early as on Wednesday to finalize the decision, according to the party sources. Punishment for other members will also be decided at that time.

The LDP leadership feels that the four most politically and morally responsible members of the Abe faction are 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. Although the four were ordered by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stop the faction’s payment of kickbacks, after his death they discussed how to handle the practice and decided not to stop the cash payments.

The party leadership particularly placed weight on the fact that the four members were in a position to stop the illegal transfers of money, but did not take action. There have been calls within the party for tougher measures against the four than withholding election endorsements, and public criticism also remains strong. Taking this into consideration, the leadership is mulling recommending they leave the party. The party will soon make a final decision on whether to levy this punishment against all of the four members, or only some of them.

In descending order of severity, the LDP can take the following eight levels of disciplinary action: expulsion from the party; a request that a member leave; suspension of party membership; no election endorsements; a request to resign from Diet and government posts; suspension from party posts; warnings and requests to comply with party rules and other regulations.

It has been confirmed that a total of 82 LDP lawmakers from the Abe and Nikai factions failed to state in their political funds reports kickbacks taken from income from political fundraising parties. The LDP is considering imposing three to four levels of disciplinary action against them, based on their faction posts and other factors. The LDP is also considering not punishing some of the junior members, taking into consideration the amount of money they failed to report and their career as Diet members.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also LDP president, hopes to complete the relevant procedures before the Japan-U.S. summit meeting scheduled for April 10 in the United States. The party leadership plans to call for a meeting of the Party Ethics Committee as early as on Monday and finalize its decision on the punishment based on the accounts to be given by the lawmakers in question and other information.

The meeting, however, is unlikely to take place until Wednesday or later, as those who give their accounts will need time to prepare.