Upper House member Tatsuo Tomobe, who has been indicted on suspicion of massive fraud, denied on Mar. 21 allegations that he misappropriated funds collected by Orange Kyosai Kumiai, a mutual aid society run by his family, to buy a Diet seat.

Tomobe, 68, made the remark as a sworn witness before a group of Upper House Budget Committee lawmakers probing the fraud scandal. The group of legislators visited Tomobe late Mar. 21 at the Metropolitan Police Department, where he is being held, to have him testify about the allegedly questionable flow of funds.

It has been reported that about 1 billion yen of the collected money was funneled to other politicians to secure his selection as a candidate for the 1995 Upper House election. “Tomobe replied that it was not him but his wife and one of his sons who were in charge of managing the money collected by Orange Kyosai,” said Taichiro Okawara, chairman of the committee and head of the group. “He reiterated he knew nothing about the flow of money,” Okawara told reporters after the group’s meeting with Tomobe.

Because he is being detained, the committee members’ reportedly decided to visit him instead of summoning him to the Diet. Okawara admitted that the questioning by the Budget Committee group produced nothing new about the scandal. “We hope that investigators will disclose any hidden stories related to the flow of the billions of yen that was collected illegally (from about 2,500 people nationwide),” Okawara said.

Tomobe was elected to the chamber in the July 1995 Upper House election as a proportional representation candidate on the Shinshinto ticket. He left the largest opposition party after the scandal came to light. But suspicions about Tomobe have lingered because he rose to as high as 13th on Shinshinto’s candidate priority list, despite his poor performance in earlier elections. Tomobe failed to reach the Diet in four previous elections before winning the seat.

Saito, 48, known as a political broker, allegedly worked to help Upper House member Tatsuo Tomobe win a seat in the 1995 Upper House election. Tomobe, who was stripped of his Diet immunity and indicted for fraud, is believed to be the key player in the misappropriation of deposits for an investment fund offered by Orange Kyosai, which was run by members of his family.

Tomobe has refused to resign his Diet seat.

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