Government-subsidized “land improvement unions” of farmers in 17 prefectures have misappropriated union membership fees worth 46.13 million yen since fiscal 1996 to pay for union leaders’ membership fees for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and to aid LDP lawmakers, the Agriculture Ministry said this week.

The law empowering the government to subsidize farming projects, such as the construction of irrigation aqueducts and vegetable fields, mandates that such unions use membership fees only to pay for the cost of building joint farming facilities for member farmers.

Under the 1949 land improvement law, the central government has financed roughly half of the farming projects undertaken by such unions, with the rest of the cost shared by local governments and farmers in the form of union membership fees.

For farmers’ land improvement unions to receive such a subsidy, it is a legal prerequisite that prefectural governments designate them as being entitled to receive the aid.

Diverting union members’ fees to fund the political activities of a political party or to pay its membership fees is tantamount to violating the law. The misappropriations came to light after the industrial insurance organization KSD misused the premiums it collected from the managers of midsize and small companies to funnel a large amount of money to LDP lawmakers under the pretext of fees to support nonexistent LDP members.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said in an interim report released Wednesday that the land improvement unions in the 17 prefectures annually misappropriated amounts ranging from 7.85 million yen to 9.87 million yen in the period between fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2000.

The money was used to pay the membership fees of various regional support organizations of the LDP and LDP legislators, as well as political contributions to LDP lawmakers before elections, the ministry said.

Land improvement unions in Tochigi Prefecture misappropriated the biggest amount, at 15.35 million yen, accounting for 33 percent of the total.

The ministry said it has instructed union leaders who diverted members’ fees to return the money to the unions’ coffers.

The ministry instructed prefectural governments nationwide to conduct investigations into the use of members’ fees at land improvement unions in March on the instruction of then Agriculture Minister Yoshio Yatsu.

Responses have been received from 33 prefectures.

The ministry plans to release a final report around June.

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