Ex-Hatoyama fund manager found guilty

Another severe blow is dealt to beleaguered DPJ

by Jun Hongo

The Tokyo District Court on Thursday handed a suspended two-year prison term to a former government-paid secretary to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for falsely reporting the sources of political donations made to the prime minister’s fundraising body.

Keiji Katsuba, 59, was found guilty of faking donations made by Hatoyama’s mother, Yasuko, whose family founded the global tire conglomerate Bridgestone Corp.

“This is very regrettable and I feel very responsible,” Hatoyama said in an e-mail to subscribers to the Cabinet’s online magazine.

Katsuba will not appeal the ruling, his lawyers said.

Suspended for three years, the sentence came as little surprise yet still delivers another blow to the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which has seen its approval rate slide below 30 percent in recent opinion polls.

“The act is extremely deplorable,” presiding Judge Masahiro Hiraki said in the ruling, adding that Katsuba had repeatedly engaged in misconduct. The false reports damaged public trust in laws controlling political funds, Hiraki said.

According to the ruling, Katsuba failed to list or fabricated the source of about ¥400 million in the political funding reports of the Yuai Seikei Konwakai fundraising group between 2004 and 2008. Another of Hatoyama’s former secretaries has been fined ¥300,000 in the case.

The ruling found that Hatoyama’s assets as well as donations by his mother and sister were at times listed as donations made by others, including deceased people.

The Political Funds Control Law limits the amount a lawmaker can donate to his or her own fund management body to ¥10 million per year, while capping donations by individuals at ¥1.5 million a year.

The prime minister has indicated he may have excessively bankrolled his political fund management body but claimed it was his understanding that funds in excess of the ¥10 million limit constituted a loan.

Prosecutors did not indict Hatoyama over the case, while the prime minister turned in a statement to the court saying Katsuba was in full control of the fund’s management.

According to prosecutors, Hatoyama’s 87-year-old mother provided ¥15 million a month since 2002 after Katsuba requested financial support to cover the running costs of Yuai Seikei Konwakai. She also gave the court a written statement saying the prime minister was not aware of her gifts.

Hatoyama revealed in December that his mother provided a total of more than ¥1.2 billion to his fund management body, on which he then shelled out ¥600 million in gift tax.

Katsuba, who pleaded guilty when his trial opened last month, released a statement after the ruling apologizing for his misconduct. “I deeply regret” that acts intended to portray Hatoyama as a capable politician ended up damaging his reputation, he said.

Prosecutors had demanded a two-year prison term for the disgraced former secretary, condemning his slapdash management of the fund body and for concealing the true state of affairs from the public.

Meanwhile, Katsuba’s lawyers had requested a suspended sentence, noting the sources of the funds involved only the Hatoyama family and the crime was not vicious in nature.

The ruling may have closed a chapter on Hatoyama’s financial scandal, but the DPJ is still tangled in a series of similar allegations over shady political funds.