Muraoka denies role in donation coverup

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Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka on Tuesday denied helping to cover up a 100 million yen donation made to the Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction by the Japan Dental Association in 2001.

Muraoka stands accused of being the one who in March 2002 decided not to declare the donation in the faction’s annual official funds report, in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. At the time of the incident, he was deputy chairman of the faction then headed by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

In entering his plea before the Tokyo District Court, Muraoka said it was former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonak who managed the faction’s coffers.

“I have nothing to do with this case, and I’m convinced that I’m innocent,” an angry Muraoka said in a clear voice during his first trial session.

Nonaka has repeatedly denied any role in the coverup.

The faction has acknowledged that it received a 100 million yen check from the dental lobby and did not declare it in its annual report. Who was actually responsible for the coverup is the focus of Muraoka’s trial.

Earlier this month, the district court convicted the faction’s treasurer at the time, Toshiyuki Takigawa, for his role in the misdeed. Takigawa received a suspended sentence because the court accepted his claim that Muraoka was behind the coverup.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Muraoka claimed that Nonaka, faction secretary general at the time, controlled all of the group’s money, and that Takigawa handled the funds under direct instructions from Nonaka.

Muraoka also told the court that his title of deputy chairman was merely honorary and came with no power. He said Hashimoto might have also given instructions to Takigawa. It was widely reported that Hashimoto personally was handed the 100 million yen JDA check at a Tokyo restaurant.

“I’d like Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Nonaka to come before the court and tell the truth,” Muraoka told reporters after the session ended Tuesday afternoon.

Muraoka’s lawyers indicated they might ask the court to call on the two to testify.

The scandal has already hobbled the faction, which had played a pivotal role in the nation’s politics for decades.

Muraoka’s claims Tuesday echo those he previously made in public regarding his alleged role in the donation scam. They are an outright challenge to prosecutors, who in their opening statement Tuesday said Muraoka conspired with Takigawa to cover up the donation.

When handing Takigawa a suspended sentence, the district court sided with his claim that he had conspired with Muraoka in not declaring the donation.

“Let’s not issue a receipt” for the 100 million, the prosecutors quoted Muraoka as saying during a March 2002 meeting of faction executives, based on Takigawa’s testimony. The prosecutors, apparently based mainly on Takigawa’s claims, allege that the faction decided to keep the donation under wraps at that meeting.

But on Tuesday, Muraoka’s lawyers argued that their client’s indictment was “based only on partial statements” given by certain witnesses.

Muraoka and Nonaka were rivals who both sought power within the faction. The confrontation between the two deeply split the group, with Muraoka supporting the re-election of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as LDP president in September 2003 while Nonaka strongly opposed it.