Tokyo: Japanese public prosecutors have begun questioning lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s largest faction on a voluntary basis over a political fund scandal, local media reported on Wednesday.
Seiwaken, or the Seiwa policy study group, the largest LDP faction previously led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was suspected to have pooled secret funds amounting to around 100 million yen (about $679,000) over at least the past five years through 2022, national news agency Kyodo reported.
The slush funds were suspected to have been created by returning part of sales of political fundraising party tickets to its lawmakers as kickbacks, Xinhua news agency reported.
Prosecutors have questioned on a voluntary basis secretaries of lawmakers who were alleged to have received kickbacks from Seiwaken, Kyodo reported, citing investigative sources.
At least 10 lawmakers received kickbacks, with some given 10 million yen or more by the faction comprising around 100 members, said the report.
The special squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office was investigating flows of funds and the details of how political funds reports were created at the faction, eyeing the possibility of establishing a case on suspicion of violating the political funds control law, Jiji Press reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Japan’s political funds control law requires political organisations to list in their fund reports the names of individuals or organisations that paid more than 200,000 yen at a fundraising party, along with the amounts paid.
According to multiple local media outlets, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday requested all LDP factions to refrain from holding fundraising parties for the time being, amid growing criticism and allegations that five LDP factions, including his own underreported their revenue from fundraising parties.
“New revelations have emerged to expand the allegations surrounding the political fundraising parties of various LDP factions, taking the scandal into a new phase,” Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun said in an editorial published on Wednesday.
“Fundraising parties have long been criticised for a lack of transparency and described as a hotbed for the creation of slush funds,” noted the editorial, urging the LDP to “dig deep to get to the bottom of slush fund allegations.” (1 Japanese yen equals $0.0068)