ID :
Fri, 04/05/2024 - 04:46
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LDP punishes 39 members over funds scandal, urging 2 to leave party

    TOKYO, April 4 Kyodo - Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday punished 39 members over a political funds scandal, including urging two heavyweights to leave the party, aiming to put a line under a controversy that has dogged it since late last year.

    The decision by the LDP's disciplinary committee comes after some of its factions, including one previously led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, were found to have neglected to fully report revenue from fundraising parties for years, with hundreds of millions of yen passed back to members who had sold tickets to the events.

    Later in the day, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who leads the LDP, apologized for causing public mistrust in politics due to the scandal, pledging to promote the party's governance and implement political reforms to prevent similar issues from occurring again.

    Kishida hopes the steps will allow the party to move on from the scandal before his visit to the United States next week for talks with President Joe Biden, with official campaigning for three by-elections in parliament kicking off the following week, political pundits said.

    But opposition lawmakers said the party's probe has failed to fully bring to light the facts surrounding the slush funds and are set to demand further scrutiny, while the punishment drew backlash from LDP members who feel it is unfair.

    Kenta Izumi, chief of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, lambasted the LDP's punishments, saying they are "very arbitrary."

    Among Abe faction executives, former education minister Ryu Shionoya, the de facto leader of the group, and Hiroshige Seko, former LDP secretary general in the House of Councillors, were advised to leave the party, the second-severest penalty among the party's eight levels of punitive steps following expulsion.

    In response to the decision by the ethics panel, Seko told reporters he has offered to leave the party. Separately, Shionoya criticized the decision not to punish Kishida, saying it would only be "fair" to give the prime minister the same treatment.

    Meanwhile, former trade minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and former LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura were punished by having their party membership suspended for one year.

    The four lawmakers have been censured for failing to end the slush fund practice. Although Abe decided to stop it in April 2022, it was reinstated after a gathering involving the four in August of that year, a month after Abe was assassinated during an election campaign.

    At a news conference after the committee meeting, LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi said that the party took more severe steps against the Abe faction executives in light of their roles, calling their political responsibility "extremely heavy."

    The senior lawmakers have claimed that they were not aware of how and when the paying back scheme started and why it was resumed despite Abe's decision.

    Kishida said he has questioned former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori over the phone but was not able to confirm his involvement. Mori headed the faction from 1998 to 2000 and from 2001 to 2006 and is suspected of having come up with the scheme.

    Tsuyoshi Takagi, who served as secretary general of the Abe faction and LDP Diet affairs chief, was penalized with a half-year party membership suspension.

    Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Koichi Hagiuda, both of whom were also key Abe faction members, as well as Ryota Takeda, a senior member of another intraparty group headed by Toshihiro Nikai, were suspended from party positions for a year.

    The list of LDP members subject to the penalties excluded Nikai, 85, who has decided not to seek reelection as a lawmaker, and Kishida.

    Kishida has said he will not be subject to penalties because his faction, unlike the Abe and Nikai groups, did not pass back money to members. The Kishida, Abe, and Nikai groups have decided to disband in the wake of the scandal.

    The steps are the LDP's most extensive disciplinary action since it punished more than 50 members in 2005 after they opposed a bill to privatize the state-run postal service under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

    In an internal probe, 85 LDP members, including three who are not lawmakers but plan to run in the next election, were found to have failed to declare around 580 million yen ($3.83 million) as revenue in their political funds reports for five years through 2022.

    Most of the 39 who were punished failed to declare at least 5 million yen in their political funds reports.

    The severity of punishment differed among nonexecutives of the factions depending on the amount of funds passed back to them, with those who received 20 million yen or more having their party positions suspended for a year.

    LDP members who received 10 million yen or more but less than 20 million yen faced a six-month suspension from party positions, while those receiving amounts worth 5 million yen or more but below 10 million yen were given formal warnings.

    Motegi said he will "warn" the remaining 45 party members who accepted less than 5 million yen against misreporting revenue from fundraising parties.