Inose’s explanation is unconvincing

Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose has a duty to give a convincing account for the ¥50 million he claims to have received as an interest-free loan “for personal use” from the scandal-tainted Tokushukai hospital group last year. Inose, who was elected governor in December 2012 with a record-high vote tally, says he received the money in November that year shortly after he visited the hospital group’s founder and former Lower House member Torao Tokuda to tell him that he was running in the election. He denies that the money was intended as campaign funds, which would have made the loan illegal as it wasn’t declared.

Even if Inose’s account is true, it is problematic as it means that he borrowed the huge sum as a private loan — without interest or collateral — from the hospital group over which he, when elected Tokyo governor, would have the power to either approve or disapprove its plans to open new hospitals or welfare institutions in Tokyo. Moreover, the ¥50 million was not included in a report on his assets and loans that Inose issued when elected governor — a requirement under the metropolitan government ordinance.

Inose says the money was never touched as it was kept in a bank deposit box belonging to his wife — who died in July this year — and that it was returned to the Tokushukai group in late September after public prosecutors raided the group over suspected massive illegal campaign operations for the founder’s son Takeo in the December 2012 Lower House election. But it was only after the story broke in a media report in November that Inose publicly acknowledged receiving and returning the money.

The accounts given by Inose thus far are hardly convincing and raise more questions than answers. An IOU for the ¥50 million that Inose showed to the press recently to back up his claim concerning the loan contained no information to prove when the document was made or when or whether the money was returned.

Suspicions remain that the ¥50 million was in fact offered as a contribution to Inose’s campaign funds. Inose has explained that he received the money in cash from Takeo Tokuda on the day before he declared his candidacy for the gubernatorial race. The governor could be accused of falsely reporting the campaign funds if the money from Tokushukai proves to be a political contribution.

Several people, including the two sisters of Takeo Tokuda, have been arrested in the Tokushukai case in which the Tokuda family allegedly broke the election law by paying employees of the group to help the lawmaker’s campaign in the last general election. The scandal continues to widen as reports have surfaced that money from Tokushukai and Takeo Tokuda’s fund management body have gone to other lawmakers.

Questions surrounding the ¥50 million could develop into a criminal probe now that a complaint has been filed by a civic group against Inose, Torao Tokuda and Takeo Tokuda for alleged violations of the Public Offices Election Law. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly is also poised to grill Inose over the scandal.

In his opening address to the regular assembly session in late November, the governor repeated his accounts and apologized for the “trouble” he had caused over the case, noting that it was “careless” of him to have borrowed the money without interest or collateral and then to have returned the money only after the Tokushukai’s campaign scandal came to light.

Members of the assembly said they were not convinced by Inose’s explanation. What’s needed is not an apology but rather a convincing account from the governor.