Hatoyama hints he exceeded limit on political funds, calls it a loan

by Jun Hongo and Alex Martin

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama indicated Wednesday he may have overbankrolled his political fund management body but claimed it was his understanding that funds in excess of the ¥10 million limit he can personally kick in constituted a loan he would later get back.

Hatoyama made the admission when he and his Democratic Party of Japan-led Cabinet came under renewed fire before the Lower House Budget Committee by the opposition camp, mainly members of the ex-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, over his questionable political finances and handling of foreign affairs.

Hatoyama acknowledged providing his personal assets to his fund management body, saying he had an understanding that the money would be used to cover running costs.

The Political Funds Control Law limits the amount a lawmaker can donate to his or her fund management body to ¥10 million per year.

About ¥130 million worth of small donations from unnamed sources were made over a period of four years to Hatoyama’s organization, some of which is believed to be the prime minister’s own assets.

“I am aware that there is a limit of ¥10 million for donations. I had an understanding that the excess amount was a loan, that it will later be returned,” Hatoyama said.

The prime minister claimed he did not know how his private funds were being used by the management body, saying he “completely trusted” his former chief accountant. Earlier reports have alleged that Hatoyama’s fund management body listed contributions made by deceased individuals and others who deny ever making donations, and that prosecutors are investigating.

“I will entrust the investigators to decide my responsibility as the person in charge,” the prime minister said.

Shigeru Ishiba, LDP Policy Research Council chairman, quizzed Hatoyama on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, saying his apparent new tack on the contentious issue may severely affect the U.S. deterrence capability in the region.

“We are talking about the marine corps, not the navy or the army or the air force,” Ishiba, a former Defense Minister known for his expertise on military issues, told the committee. Stressing the significance of having the Futenma air base in the area, Ishiba added that its presence contributes not only to Japan’s security but to the protection of East Asia.

“Imagine the affect it will have on peace and security in the region if our agreed plan is scrapped and we must restart from zero,” Ishiba told Hatoyama. The LDP veteran also criticized the proposal by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, a key member of the ruling DPJ, to merge the Futenma flight operations with the U.S. Air Force Kadena Air Base.

It is highly doubtful that marine corps helicopters and air force jets can scramble out of the same base in a crisis, he said.

Hatoyama acknowledged the U.S. presence contributes to the security of Japan and the region, adding the deterrence factor must be sustained.

But Cabinet members did not give specific opinions on the matter, reiterating that they are in the process of reviewing the accord made by the previous administration.

Regarding the DPJ’s pledge of aiming for a “more equal” Japan-U.S. alliance, Hatoyama said that by this he meant it was about time Japan stopped automatically complying with U.S. demands whenever asked for assistance.

“We sent the Self Defense-Forces to Iraq when the U.S. asked for ‘boots on the ground,’ ” Hatoyama said, adding personnel were also sent to Afghanistan when the U.S. asked Japan to “show the flag.”

“But why can’t we raise our voice when we believe something is wrong, for example the Iraq war?” Hatoyama asked.

The LDP’s Yoshihide Suga criticized the DPJ for its appointment of former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Jiro Saito as the new chief of Japan Post Holding Co., as well as appointing two other former bureaucrats as vice presidents of the company.

Suga said he believed the personnel decisions were a form of the corruption-prone “amakudari” — the hiring of retired bureaucrats by organizations they used to oversee.

Hatoyama denied the allegation, saying the appointments were made based purely on their potential and expertise.