SAITAMA – Saitama Gov. Yoshihiko Tsuchiya announced his resignation Saturday, two days after his eldest daughter and political fund manager was arrested for allegedly failing to report 113 million yen in political donations over a five-year period.
Tsuchiya told a news conference in the early hours of Saturday that he was not involved in the matter and claimed he is only stepping down because of the “embarrassment” he has caused Saitama.
“I should not cause any further embarrassment to the people of Saitama,” he said by way of apology.
Tsuchiya, 77, a former Cabinet minister and president of the House of Councilors, is a powerful figure in Saitama politics and is serving his third four-term as governor of the prefecture.
Tokyo district prosecutors searched Tsuchiya’s office, his official residence and his private home in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, on Friday.
Investigative sources said the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office plans to question him over the case.
Tsuchiya’s eldest daughter, Momoko Ichikawa, 53, was arrested Thursday for hiding 113 million yen in political funds donated to her father between 1998 and 2002.
Tsuchiya has flatly denied being involved in the scandal and repeated that denial at the news conference early Saturday.
“I know nothing. I bet my life on it,” he said.
He told reporters following the arrest of his daughter that he left all financial matters to her and he knows nothing about political funds being hidden.
Later in the day, Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers said it is only right that Tsuchiya step down.
“In addition to former Upper House President Yutaka Inoue, it is truly regrettable that another former Upper House president is involved in a scandal,” said LDP policy chief Taro Aso. “I think the resignation is the one choice he had to take.”
According to investigative sources, prosecutors suspect his daughter kept Tsuchiya informed of the coverup.
Most of the donations were used to cover Ichikawa’s own financial losses, incurred from stock transactions that went bad and to fund her consulting firm, the sources said, adding that Tsuchiya was probably aware of these actions.
The sources said several bank accounts belonging to the political fund management office were managed by Ichikawa and an administrator of the office named Harumi Ozaki, with Ichikawa directing Ozaki to make false political fund statements.
Ozaki, who was transferred to the political fund management office from Ichikawa’s consultancy business in 1998, was also arrested Thursday.
Sources also said Tsuchiya’s office has been issuing its annual political fund statements under the authority of a Tokyo-based chartered accountant who has lent his name and seal to the office since it was established in 1995.
The accountant reportedly told investigators from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office that he became the accountant at the office at the request of a Saitama friend, but he has never personally put his signature or seal on the political fund statements released by the office.
The account said he has never met Ichikawa and he does not even know where the political fund management office is located.
The annual fund statements issued by the office, which are required by law, bore the name and seal of the Tokyo accountant from 1995 through 2000.
Tsuchiya, who was first elected Saitama governor in 1992, was House of Councilors president between September 1988 and October 1991 and once served as Cabinet member in charge of the Environment Agency, now called the Environment Ministry.
Tsuchiya’s second daughter, Shinako Tsuchiya, 51, is a House of Representatives member with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and is currently serving her second term. She has been appointed as parliamentary foreign secretary.
The political fund scandal surfaced while Tokyo district prosecutors were looking into a corporate fund misappropriation case at Duskin Co., an Osaka-based company that runs a cleaning equipment franchise and restaurant services.