Hashimoto unlikely to be charged

Public prosecutors have questioned former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto as part of a probe into an undeclared 100 million yen political donation from the scandal-tainted Japan Dental Association in 2001, investigative sources said.

Hashimoto, who was questioned Tuesday, is believed to have denied involvement in the affair, even though earlier reports suggested that he had been handed the donation in check form.

The sources said, however, that prosecutors will probably be unable to build a criminal case against him due to apparent difficulty in linking him to the money. Their yearlong investigation will likely end with the recent arrests of a former faction treasurer and figures related to the dental group, they said.

Attending a symposium Wednesday morning at U.N. University in Tokyo, Hashimoto said nothing about the ongoing investigation during his address and refused to respond to questions from reporters.

When asked about the case Wednesday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi claimed that the Liberal Democratic Party, which he heads, will crack down on money politics.

“It is an issue of money and politics that is important in terms of how political reforms should address it in any age,” Koizumi told reporters at his office. “I think discussions will be held at the Diet, and the party should closely study how to rectify the issue.”

On Aug. 29, prosecutors arrested a 55-year-old former treasurer of the LDP’s largest faction, headed until recently by Hashimoto, on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law for allegedly failing to declare the donation to authorities.

A special squad from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office had searched the office of the faction, known as Heisei Kenkyukai, or Heisei Study Group, in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.

Hashimoto allegedly received the 100 million yen check from Sadao Usuda, former chairman of the dental association, in July 2001.

According to investigative and other sources, Usuda, 73, and Hirotake Uchida, 63, former director of the dental group, met with Hashimoto shortly before the July 2001 House of Councilors election and handed him an envelope containing the check.

Usuda has told prosecutors that two influential LDP lawmakers — Hiromu Nonaka and Mikio Aoki — were present at the meeting and confirmed the amount. Uchida told prosecutors he had asked the faction for a receipt, but the faction had never given him one.

Hashimoto earlier claimed he has no memory of receiving the check.

After Takigawa’s arrest, Aoki told reporters he has no recollection of any such meeting.

According to the investigation, the money came from the dental association’s political arm and the check was deposited in the faction’s bank account in July 2001.

The faction made no mention of the 100 million yen donation in its 2001 political funds report, though the report did state that the faction received 1 million yen from the dental group’s political arm.

The faction officially acknowledged the donation and refiled the 2001 political funds report last July 14.

On July 30, lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s main opposition force, submitted a criminal accusation to prosecutors against Hashimoto, alleging that he failed to declare the 100 million yen donation from the dental group’s political arm.

After the scandal broke, Hashimoto resigned as head of the faction. He was prime minister from 1996 to 1998 and became head of the faction in July 2000.