• Crime & Courts

4 Senior Abe Faction Members Voluntarily Questioned over Suspected Hidden Funds

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Clockwise from top right Hirokazu Matsuno, Ryu Shionoya, Hiroshige Seko and Tsuyoshi Takagi

Four senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction were voluntarily questioned by the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office over suspected hidden funds, according to sources. It is rare that politicians who have held key positions are interrogated by investigative agencies, even on a voluntary basis.

The four questioned were former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, former LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairperson Tsuyoshi Takagi, former LDP Secretary General for the House of Councillors Hiroshige Seko and former Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology Minister Ryu Shionoya. They were expected to have been questioned as to why the funds were not disclosed and whether they had instructed the facton’s treasurer, as well as the circumstances behind the off-the-book funds and their understanding of the allegations.

The special investigation squad began questioning faction members, who had received a large sum in kickbacks, after the Diet’s extraordinary session adjourned on Dec. 13. They searched the faction’s Tokyo office on Dec. 19 and requested interviews with its senior members.

The Abe faction had provided its members with cash equivalent to the amount collected in party ticket sales above their allotted quotas, and is suspected of failing to include such monies in political funds reports of both the faction and its individual members. The amount of money that was not included in the reports is estimated to total ¥500 million over the five-year period ending 2022, which is within the statute of limitations on prosecution.

Matsuno was the faction’s secretary general from September 2019 to October 2021 and served as chief cabinet secretary until Dec. 14 this year. Takagi has been the faction’s secretary general since August 2022.

Matsuno, Takagi and Seko, along with former LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda and former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura form the Abe faction’s core as a “five-man group,” while Shionoya serves as the faction’s de facto chairman.

Matsuno, Takagi and Seko are suspected of failing to include more than ¥10 million in kickbacks from the faction in their own political balance reports.

The faction’s treasurer — who is in charge of compiling and submitting an income and expenditure report by law — has already admitted that he hadn’t reported the money, leading the prosecutors to consider building a case on suspicion of violations of the Political Funds Control Law.