• Crime & Courts

Nishimura Voluntarily Questioned by Prosecutors; 6th Key Member of Abe Faction Questioned over Political Funds

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura answers questions from reporters after submitting his resignation following a political funds scandal at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Dec. 14.

Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, a senior official of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction, submitted himself to questioning by prosecutors on a voluntary basis over unreported political funds, according to sources.

Nishimura, 61, has become the sixth key member of the faction — known as Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai formerly led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — to be questioned by the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.

In connection with the scandal, the investigation squad has so far questioned former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, 61; Tsuyoshi Takagi, 67, a former chairperson of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee; Hiroshige Seko, 61, a former secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors; Koichi Hagiuda, 60, a former chairperson of the party’s Policy Research Council; and former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Ryu Shionoya, 73, who is the faction’s coordinator.

Nishimura, along with Matsuno, Takagi, Seko and Hagiuda, are known as the faction’s core “five-man group.” He succeeded Matsuno as the faction’s secretary general and served in the post from October 2021 to August 2022. The investigation squad is believed to have asked Nishimura about the background behind the failure to document kickbacks provided from the faction to its lawmakers in political funds reports, among other matters.

The Abe faction is suspected of having failed to include kickbacks from political fundraising parties in political funds reports of both the faction itself and its individual members. The amount left out of the reports is thought to total ¥500 million over the past five years, which is within the statute of limitations for prosecution.

Nishimura’s side has allegedly failed to include several hundred thousand yen in his political group’s funds reports.

Ono’s local office searched

On Friday, the investigation squad searched the office of Abe faction member Yasutada Ono, in Hashima, Gifu Prefecture, on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law. This is the third consecutive day that the office of a lawmaker of the faction has been searched.

About 10 investgators began the search at Ono’s office on Friday morning, and more than 15 cardboard boxes, believed to contain seized materials, were taken out and loaded into a vehicle at about 5 p.m.

After the search, a secretary for Ono repeatedly said in response to questions from reporters, “The investigation is ongoing, so we can’t answer questions.”

The secretary said he had not been able to contact Ono.

Ono’s side has allegedly failed to include kickbacks of more than ¥50 million as income in political funds reports of his political group. The investigation squad also searched Ono’s office at the Diet members’ building in Tokyo and other location on Thursday.