Hashimoto admits taking JDA donation

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Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, speaking Tuesday to a closed Diet panel session, effectively acknowledged that he received an unreported 100 million yen donation from the Japan Dental Association in July 2001.

According to opposition lawmakers who attended the session, Hashimoto claimed he has no “records or memories of” who attended the meeting where, according to prosecutors, he was personally handed a 100 million yen check from Sadao Usuda, the dental association chairman at the time. But Hashimoto said this must have occurred, because others told him so.

The former prime minister also denied that he played any role in the alleged decision by his colleagues to cover up the donation.

Hashimoto at the time was head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s biggest faction. The 100 million yen was not listed in the faction’s political donations report for 2001 — a violation of the Political Funds Control Law that led to criminal charges this year against a former lawmaker and an accountant for the faction.

While insisting that he did not remember the events at the meeting, Hashimoto told the council he now “feels” that the allegation by prosecutors is true, after examining statements by other key figures in the affair, records of his chauffeur and his office’s accounting, the participants said.

Opposition lawmakers had demanded that the House of Representatives Deliberative Council on Political Ethics be open to reporters. But the ruling bloc, at Hashimoto’s request, rejected the demand.

Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers, who held a news conference after the session, claimed that it is suspicious that Hashimoto cannot remember the events at the meeting, given the large amount of money given to him.

“We asked him if he can’t remember anything because he has received donations of such an amount frequently. He denied that,” said Hisayasu Nagata, a DPJ member who attended the session.

“He hasn’t explained what he witnessed” at the meeting, Nagata said. “He only said he now believes he received the money after considering various circumstances.”

The treasurer at the time, Toshiyuki Takigawa, was arrested in August over his role in the faction’s failure to report the money. He told the Tokyo District Court last month that he received the check from Hashimoto and cashed it. In a separate court session, the dental association’s Usuda stated that he handed the check to Hashimoto himself.

“Mr. Usuda said he gave it (to me), and Mr. Takigawa said he received it. If so, (I) probably received (the check),” Hashimoto was quoted as telling the Diet panel.

The daily work report of Hashimoto’s chauffeur shows that he brought Hashimoto to a restaurant in Tokyo where the meeting allegedly took place, and records from Hashimoto’s office show his office paid for the meals there, Hashimoto reportedly told the Diet.

He also denied playing any role when other faction members allegedly decided in March 2002 not to issue a receipt for the money.

Prosecutors charged Takigawa and a former Hashimoto faction heavyweight, Kanezo Muraoka, with violating the Political Funds Control Law, but they did not indict Hashimoto due to lack of evidence that he played a leading role in the coverup.

But DPJ members charge that Tuesday’s session highlights suspicions over Hashimoto’s role and are demanding that he be summoned to the Diet to give sworn testimony.

Hashimoto cannot be charged with perjury over any statements he made to the ethics council.

Opposition lawmakers have been demanding that Hashimoto and other key figures be summoned as sworn witnesses before the Lower House Budget Committee, only to be rebuffed by the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito.

Hashimoto, prime minister from 1996 to 1998, resigned as head of the faction when the scandal broke this summer.