January 9, 2024
TOKYO – Investigations of a series of political funds scandals involving the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction reached a crucial stage Sunday when House of Representatives member Yoshitaka Ikeda was arrested, as he received a large amount of kickbacks from the Abe faction.
The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office concluded that the destruction of evidence is highly possible in the case, leading to the rare arrest of a Diet member on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law.
Criteria for building case
Since last month, prosecutors have been investigating lawmakers who failed to report kickbacks in their political funds reports and have found that the amount of off-the-book monies ranged from several tens of thousands of yen to ¥50 million, prompting the squad to set a threshold for building cases. According to a source close to the case, “more than ¥40 million” was set as one of the in-house criteria for making a case.
Three Abe faction members meet this criterion: Ikeda, 57; House of Councillors member Yasumasa Ono, 64; and lower house member Yaichi Tanigawa, 82.
In the past, however, a few lawmakers were arrested for the same type of allegations, including former lower house member Takanori Sakai whose off-the-book money amounted to ¥100 million or more. In many cases involving tens of millions of yen, prosecutors had investigated lawmakers at their home and filed summary indictments, as was the case with former lower house member Kentaro Sonoura.
In Ikeda’s case, a senior prosecutor explained that the reason behind the arrests of him and his policy secretary, Kazuhiro Kakinuma, 45, was “on suspicion of the destruction of concrete evidence.”
Ikeda Reimeikai, a fund management organization led by Ikeda, corrected its income and expenditure report as of Dec. 8, before prosecutors began questioning Ikeda voluntarily. At that time, Ikeda’s side said they deemed the kickbacks as funds for political activities paid from the political party through the faction and therefore did not include them in the balance report.
Ikeda and Kakinuma themselves gave the same explanations during questioning, but a senior prosecutor doubted their assertions by saying, “It stretches credibility to call the funds ‘money from the party’ when it had been returned by the faction.”
Ikeda and Kakinuma have denied any knowledge of illegality, but the squad concluded that the suspects may try to destroy evidence — such as by coordinating their stories — if they remain under investigation at home. Therefore, in consideration of the effect on an ordinary Diet session that is scheduled to convene later this month, prosecutors took the unusual step of arresting them on a weekend.
Involvement of faction leadership
In addition to the large kickbacks, the involvement of the Abe faction leaders has been a focus of the investigation. Prosecutors have interviewed the faction’s past secretaries general among others on a voluntary basis, carefully checking the chain of command within the faction.
The faction is said to have had a long-standing practice of distributing revenues in excess of the quotas for selling fundraising party tickets to lawmakers who sold them. But in April 2022, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had chaired the faction, was found to have announced a policy to abolish the practice. The policy was reportedly communicated to party executives, and the abolition was said to have been decided at a party held the following month.
However, some members demanded that the practice be continued, and after Abe’s death in July’s shooting incident, the faction leaders discussed the matter and decided to continue the practice. Prosecutors focused on the discussions that took place before the abolition policy was rescinded, and interviewed faction leaders about comments made during the discussions.
According to sources, the faction leaders have denied any involvement in a series of off-the-book funds issues. Prosecutors are considering filing a case against the faction’s treasurer on suspicion of violating the law, and the focus of investigations now on is whether they can find objective evidence of a conspiracy among the faction leaders.