Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose denied Friday that he deliberately whitewashed his annual report on political funds last year and said money he accepted from the scandal-tainted Tokushukai hospital chain before his gubernatorial campaign last December was strictly for “personal purposes.”
Because it was his first time running, Inose said he paid courtesy visits to many potential constituents to ask for financial support before launching his campaign run. Among them were Tokushukai founder Torao Tokuda, whose hospital chain was probed by prosecutors in September for allegedly breaking the election law.
After they met, Inose received a whopping ¥50 million ($500,000) from Liberal Democratic Party politician Takeshi Tokuda, the hospital chief’s second son, for what Inose described as strictly personal purposes. The windfall had no political connotations, he claimed.
“Being a political amateur back then, I didn’t understand what it means to receive such money,” Inose said during a press conference Friday. “I recoiled at the thought of accepting it a little bit, but figured it might be OK as long as I return it soon.”
Inose stressed that, as a first-time candidate, he had absolutely no idea how costly his election campaign would be. This got the better of him and compelled him to eventually borrow the ¥50 million offered by Tokuda, just to stay on the safe side.
Inose, however, said he doesn’t know why Tokuda offered the money in the first place, stressing that the Diet man didn’t use any direct language to convey he wanted to become one of his financial supporters.
“Now that I think about it, I never should have accepted it,” Inose said. “I felt it would be very impolite of me to decline his offer.”
The governor’s report on political funds, disclosed earlier this month, fails to mention the money borrowed from Tokuda.
According to an official from the internal affairs ministry, politicians are not legally bound to report any income received from outside sources if the transaction takes place between individuals and for personal purposes.
As it turns out, the campaign didn’t cost as much as expected and was financed completely with his own money, Inose said. The money from Tokuda therefore, remained “completely untouched,” he emphasized, noting that he offered to repay it a month later.
But around that time, Tokuda for some reason requested that Inose delay repayment for awhile. This was further delayed by his wife’s deteriorating health and Tokyo’s relentless bid for the 2020 Olympics. Not until September did the governor’s secretary repay Tokuda, Inose said.
The money was repaid in September, shortly after prosecutors raided Tokushukai on suspicion it was illegally mobilizing hospital staff en masse to campaignfor Takeshi Tokuda, who was running in the general election in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Inose fiercely denied the raid spurred his decision to return the money and repeated that he volunteered to do so around January, describing the timing as a mere coincidence.
“I have absolutely no intention to forge a special relationship with any sort of political bodies or special interest groups. Now that Tokyo won the bid to host the Olympics, I will do my utmost to achieve that,” Inose said apologetically.
Inose ran as an independent to succeed his outspoken predecessor, Shintaro Ishihara, and emerged victorious after receiving 4.3 million votes.
So far investigators have arrested six people over the Tokushukai scandal for allegedly providing rewards to hospital group employees who were involved in Tokuda’s successful election campaign.