Watanabe should come clean

Your Party chief Yoshimi Watanabe’s lame excuse that he borrowed ¥800 million as a “private loan” from a cosmetics firm chairman and spent the money on unspecified nonpolitical expenses only adds to people’s distrust of the often opaque sources of funding by politicians.

Watanabe needs to come clean on the matter as a lawmaker who himself has harshly criticized Diet members of other parties for their political funding problems.

The revelation comes on the heels of the case of Naoki Inose, who quit last December as Tokyo governor over the undeclared ¥50 million he received from the Tokushukai hospital operator group in 2012. Inose had insisted that the money was a private loan that he already repaid but admitted last week that the money had in fact been intended for use in his gubernatorial election campaign. The admission came after prosecutors gave him a summary indictment and a summary court fined him ¥500,000 for failing to report the money as required under the Public Offices Election Law.

Watanabe has acknowledged that he borrowed the ¥800 million from DHC Corp. Chairman Yoshiaki Yoshida on two occasions — ¥300 million just before the July 2010 Upper House election and ¥500 million right after the Lower House was dissolved in November 2013 for a snap general election.

None of the borrowings have been listed either in the reports filed by his main political funds bodies or the income-expenditure reports for his election campaigns. Watanabe could be accused of violating the political funds control law or the Public Offices Election law if it is confirmed that the money had in fact been used for such purposes.

Watanabe denies that the money was used for his political activities or for election campaigns, and insists that he borrowed the money “purely as an individual” to spend on “miscellaneous expenses” needed for his life as a politician such as social expenses and travel fees.

He says he has repaid Yoshida about ¥250 million and still owes the DHC chairman some ¥550 million.

Such statements contradict accounts by Yoshida, who has told the media that Watanabe specifically asked him in an email in November 2012 for the ¥500 million to finance Your Party’s campaign in the December general election that year. It was clear, Yoshida says, that the money was provided for the election campaign.

Watanabe argues that Yoshida is mistaken and that the loan was intended to “support Yoshimi Watanabe as an individual.” There are no regulations on lawmakers borrowing money as individuals.

Watanabe, who founded Your Party in 2009 after leaving the Liberal Democratic Party, has reportedly lent the party a total of ¥480 million on four occasions since 2009. In 2010, he lent the party ¥50 million in March and ¥120 million in June — while borrowing ¥300 million from Yoshida.

In 2012, he borrowed ¥500 million from Yoshida and lent ¥250 million to the party. Watanabe denies he used the loans from Yoshida directly to lend to his own political party, saying that you can’t tell which part of your money came from where.

Watanabe is the leader of a party that receives ¥2 billion in taxpayer money a year from the subsidies to political parties. Lack of transparency in the flow of money involving him and the party cannot be condoned. He has a duty to account for the money in a more convincing manner.