• Crime & Courts

Matsuno, Seko to be Voluntarily Questioned Over Hidden Funds Allegations; Focus to Be on Evidence of Instructions, Approval

Yomiuri Shimbun file photos
Hirokazu Matsuno, former chief cabinet secretary

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office plans to conduct voluntary questioning of senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction, including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and former Secretary General of the LDP in the House of Councillors Hiroshige Seko, over suspected hidden funds, according to sources.

The squad is expected to try to clarify the background of the failure to include kickbacks to members in the faction’s political funds reports, as well as to determine the officials’ own awareness of the situation. The investigation into the alleged “faction-led hidden funds” will enter a new phase with interviews with key officials.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photos
Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general of the LDP in the House of Councillors

Conspiracy

The focus will be on whether the lawmakers had anything to do with funds thought to exceed ¥500 million that are suspected to have been unreported over the five years though 2022 in violation of the Political Funds Control Law, but the hurdles to making cases are high.

“To determine the details of the ‘hidden fund creation’ system through factions, it is indispensable to interview senior officials,” a senior prosecutor said.

The treasurer of the faction, which is obliged to prepare and submit a political funds report, has admitted that he did not record the kickbacks to the lawmakers, according to sources. The main focus of the investigation will be whether cases will be brought against the faction’s executives. Cases against the executives would effectively be limited to situations in which a conspiracy with the treasurer is established, and it would be necessary to prove clear instructions, and reporting and approval processes by the executives.

The faction’s top chairman was Hiroyuki Hosoda until 2021 and Shinzo Abe from 2021 to 2022. Both men are now deceased. In the absence of a top chairman after Abe, officials including Matsuno and Seko, both 61, have been in charge of the faction’s management. The special investigation squad is expected to interview Matsuno and others to confirm the decision-making process within the faction, but it will not be easy to prove collusion.

A person close to the prosecutors said; “To charge them with collusion, it is not enough to say that they received the report and agreed to it. It is necessary to show their recognition of the illegality of the undocumented [funds] with objective evidence,” said one of the prosecutors involved in the investigation of the case.

Scope

Many of the 99 lawmakers belonging to the Abe faction are said to have received kickbacks and failed to record them in the political funds reports of their own affiliated political organizations. Another focal point whether those lawmakers will be held criminally liable.

Several Diet members and their secretaries have admitted to failing to record the information in the reports when interviewed by the squad, and it is possible that they will be found guilty of failure to report or making false entries. However, as in the case of factions, a conspiracy with the treasurer of the respective political organization must be proven in order to build a case against the legislators themselves.

The amount of money returned to the lawmakers varies widely, ranging from tens of thousands to tens of millions of yen, so it will be necessary to determine where to draw boundaries for the scope of the case.

The case of Kentaro Sonoura, a former LDP member of the House of Representatives, who was summarily indicted by the special investigation squad last December for violating the Political Funds Control Law, may serve as a guidepost. It was alleged that a political organization affiliated with Sonoura understated the income from fundraising parties, and that the amount of false entries and omissions was around ¥49 million, of which Sonoura was involved in approximately ¥46 million. Sonoua’s fine penalty has been finalized.

In the case involving the Abe faction, it is suspected that there are three lawmakers whose omissions amounted to more than ¥40 million each. In addition to the amount of money, the squad will examine whether there are any circumstances that increase the wrongfulness of the case, such as the returned money being used for personal purposes.

If the lawmakers are found guilty, their civil rights will be suspended and they will lose their jobs. “The decision to build a case against the lawmakers is a serious one, and we will examine it carefully,” another senior prosecutor said.