Ex-Ministers Questioned Again by Prosecutors over Hidden Funds in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura answers questions from reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office on Dec.14.

Several senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction — known as Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai formerly led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — including former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura have again been questioned on a voluntary basis by public prosecutors, over the political funds scandal involving the faction, according to sources.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is believed to have confirmed once again how the faction continued not to record a portion of income from political fundraising parties in their political funds reports and the kickbacks given to its members for party ticket sales in excess of the members’ sales quotas. Prosecutors are expected to soon decide whether to build a case against them.

The amount of money left out of the faction’s and recipients’ reports is thought to total about ¥500 million over a five-year period ending in 2022. The special investigation squad has decided to build a case against the faction’s treasurer on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law.

According to the sources, in April 2022, Abe, who was then the chairman of the faction, announced his intention to stop giving kickbacks, and the decision was implemented at a party held the following month.

However, after Abe died in July the same year after being shot, faction leaders decided to continue awarding the kickbacks following discussions, the sources said. In some cases, the kickbacks were recorded as income from personal parties.

Late last month, the special investigation squad questioned senior Abe faction members, including Nishimura, 61, and Shimomura, 69, who both have served as the faction’s secretary general, on a voluntary basis, to confirm why they began giving kickbacks to faction members again and whether they were aware that the money was left out of the faction’s funds reports.

In the second round of questioning, prosecutors are believed to have asked them about the content of the discussions over kickbacks.

On Sunday, House of Representatives lawmaker Yoshitaka Ikeda, 57, a member of the Abe faction, was arrested by prosecutors on suspicion of having failed to record a total of ¥48.26 million in party income that the faction gave him as kickbacks in his political organization’s political funds reports. Ikeda, elected in the proportional representation section of the Tokai bloc, was then expelled from the party.

The data concerning the kickbacks had been disposed of at Ikeda’s office, and an official at the office told the special investigation squad that they were instructed by Ikeda to “destroy the evidence,” the sources said.