/

New environment minister admits discrepancies in funding reports

by

Staff Writer

Adding to the rash of scandals suddenly plaguing the Abe Cabinet, another new minister admitted during an urgently arranged news conference early Tuesday that there are discrepancies amounting to ¥6.64 million between total income and expenses in the political funding reports of one of his support groups in 2008 and 2009.

Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki, a Lower House member elected from Shizuoka Prefecture, was appointed to the Cabinet in the reshuffle on Sept. 3.

According to Mochizuki, an affiliated support group named Mochizuki Yoshio Koen Kai registered ¥3.05 million for 2008 and ¥3.59 million for 2009 as expenses for organizing a New Year’s party for him and his supporters.

The party was in fact organized by a separate group of volunteers supporting him, and the costs were independently covered with fees collected from about 1,800 participants each year. Thus any records relevant to the party should not be registered in the political funding reports, Mochizuki said.

Meanwhile the support group actually spent roughly the same amount of money for some unknown, unregistered purposes, which were all managed by his wife, who died of a stroke in 2010, Mochizuki said.

He said workers at his office told him those expenses were for legitimate political activities, but he can no longer learn what the outlays covered because the group has already discarded the receipts as the legally required period for maintaining records had expired.

“My wife was a very honest and dedicated person. I’m convinced she spent the money for the sake of the support group,” Mochizuki said.

The revelation came to light as media outlets have been scrutinizing the official funding reports of political groups affiliated with the new ministers on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s team.

Mochizuki said he noticed the discrepancies only after media outlets made inquiries to him.

The scandal will provide opposition lawmakers even more ammunition during Diet sessions, eroding Abe’s political capital and making it even more difficult for him to make a decision in December to raise the unpopular consumption tax next year.

During the early morning news conference, Mochizuki said he does not intend to resign.

“There is a mountain of various issues confronting the Environment Ministry. I’d like to work hard to make progress toward their solution,” he said.

“I hope he will do the best he can as minister to address mounting challenges in environmental administration,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference later Tuesday.

“Politicians should know that they are responsible for political funds, and should always be aware of their responsibilities to prevent the public from having any suspicions. I believe Minister Mochizuki knows that.”

The Cabinet has been rocked by money scandals involving new ministers over the past two weeks.

First, Yuko Obuchi resigned Oct. 20 as industry minister over shady funds spending by affiliated support groups. Justice Minister Midori Matsushima quit later the same day over an alleged violation of the election campaign law, because she had distributed “uchiwa” fans to voters. Matsushima has denied committing any illegality.

Obuchi’s successor, Yoichi Miyazawa, was immediately caught up in a scandal of his own when was revealed that his political fund management body paid ¥18,230 in 2010 to a bar featuring bondage shows in Hiroshima. Miyazawa denied he was directly involved, saying a worker in his office went to the bar and registered the expense in Miyazawa’s funding report.

Then on Monday Miyazawa admitted the Liberal Democratic Party chapter he heads received a total of ¥400,000 in illegal donations from a foreign-owned company in 2007 and 2008.

Haruko Arimura, the minister in charge of women’s empowerment, also said Monday the LDP chapter she heads received ¥600,000 from a Kagoshima-based company that was fined for tax evasion.

Information from Kyodo added