Japan ex-lawmaker indicted on charges of underreporting fundraising income

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office

A summary indictment was filed Thursday against former House of Representatives member Kentaro Sonoura, over allegations that his political organizations underreported income from fundraising parties.

Also indicted were Hayato Otani, Sonoura’s former first state-paid secretary, and Shoji Sato, a former aide for formulating policies. Otani and Sato were in charge of accounting for the political organizations in question.

Sonoura, a former Liberal Democratic Party member who resigned from the party and the House of Representatives on Wednesday, has been surrounded by allegations that his political organizations understated income from political fundraising parties by about ¥40 million, in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

The special squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is believed to have determined that Sonoura can be held criminally responsible for the alleged violation based on objective evidence, including recorded conversations regarding the underreporting and bankbooks used by Sonoura’s office.

Otani, who is responsible for the accounts of both organizations, admitted to the special squad that he had listed income from fundraising parties as less than the actual amount and had reported to Sonoura that he had done so.

The special squad began investigating the case in September last year after a complaint was filed against Sonoura and Otani for allegedly violating the law. The squad was questioning Otani and Sato, among others, on a voluntary basis since around summer this year.

The focal point of the investigation was to determine whether Sonoura was aware of the underreporting.

The law makes it mandatory for a person responsible for the accounts at a political organization to make and submit an income and expenditure report. It is considered difficult to prove that a lawmaker engaged in “conspiracy” with the person since the lawmaker’s specific involvement in underreporting, such as giving the person relevant instructions or approval for the acts, has to be shown.

In Sonoura’s case, however, there was a recording of exchanges between him and Otani over the underreporting. Since there were specific reports and approvals made between Sonoura and the secretary, the special squad considered it clear that Sonoura was involved in the underreporting.

Having analyzed materials including the bank account records of Sonoura’s office, the prosecutors also learned that the unreported income was transferred to a bank account of another organization and used for Sonoura’s eating and drinking expenses, among other purposes.

On Nov. 30, Sonoura told reporters that he was not aware of any underreporting and denied receiving any reports from or giving instructions to his secretary over the matter. But when interviewed by the special squad, which had the records of conversations and other materials, Sonoura admitted that he was aware of the underreporting.

The special squad brought a summary indictment against him. This is a procedure used in minor cases with the consent of the person involved, since Sonoura has shown his willingness to cooperate with the investigation.

Necessary procedures will be completed when Sonoura receives a summary penalty order from a summary court and pays a fine. If a fine is imposed, Sonoura’s right to vote and stand in elections will be suspended for five years, in principle. But the suspension can be waived and the period of suspension can be reduced at the discretion of the court.