Japan’s LDP Ethics Panel Recommends Shionoya, Seko Leave Party; 39 Members Face Penalties Over Funds (UPDATE 1)

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Former education minister Ryu Shionoya, left, and Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors

The Liberal Democratic Party decided on penalties against 39 of its members in connection with a fundraising scandal, at a meeting of its Party Ethics Committee on Thursday afternoon. Those subject to the disciplinary actions belong to the party’s largest faction, once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and another faction led by veteran lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai.

At a press conference after the committee met, LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi announced its decision of recommendations to leave the party for former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Ryu Shionoya and Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors.

Subsequently, Seko submitted a letter of withdrawal from the party on Thursday evening.

Shionoya previously served as chairman of the Abe faction and Seko as chairman for the Abe faction’s upper house lawmakers. Thus, the party leadership concluded that they held particularly high leadership positions in the faction. Those who do not abide by a recommendation to leave the LDP will be expelled from the party.

Overall, 39 members face four levels of discipline. In declining order of severity, the four are a recommendation to leave the party, suspension from party membership, suspension from party positions and a reprimand.

For both former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura, a decision of suspension from party membership for one year was made. The two were directly instructed by Abe to drop the practice of kickbacks — a key element in the origins of the funds scandal — at a meeting of faction executives in 2022, together with Shionoya and Seko.

For Tsuyoshi Takagi, former party Diet Affairs Committee chairperson, the committee’s decision was suspension from party membership for six months.

Earlier, the ethics committee had informed the individuals that they could account for themselves in writing if they wished, and 31 of the 39 members submitted letters of explanation by Thursday morning.

Before the deadline, secretaries of Shionoya and Nishimura visited the party headquarters and submitted letters of explanation. The panel finalized penalties in consideration of the statements in the letters.

Of the 39 members to be punished, 17 members were to be suspended from party positions. In addition, another 17 were to be reprimanded.

LDP disciplinary rules state that suspensions from party membership and party positions are to be imposed for a period of no less than three months and no more than two years.

During the suspension period, they will lose the party’s endorsement in elections and lose their eligibility to run for and vote in party presidential elections.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who also formerly served as secretary general of the Abe faction, and former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda, the former and most recent secretary general of the Nikai faction, are to be suspended from party posts for one year.

Also subject to suspension from party posts are Koichi Hagiuda, former chairperson of the party Policy Research Council, and lawmakers who failed to list ¥10 million or more in their political funds reports during the five years from 2018 to 2022.

Lawmakers with unlisted funds totaling at least ¥5 million but less than ¥10 million are expected to be subject to reprimand.

Kishida vows reform

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office Thursday evening: “As president of the party, I sincerely apologize for the many doubts the scandal has raised in the public and the serious political mistrust that has been engendered. To prevent such a situation from happening again, I will do my utmost to reform the governance of the party and to revise the Political Funds Control Law.”