Tokyo police will establish a criminal case against former Social Democratic Party lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto on suspicion of fraud by skimming government salaries for her policy secretaries, according to investigative sources.

Tsujimoto, 43, who resigned from the House of Representatives when the scandal broke in March 2002, and several other people will be charged with fraud, the sources said.

Investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department have questioned Tsujimoto on several occasions, and have collected relevant documents from the Lower House secretariat as evidence against her, the sources said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda touched on the matter during his daily news briefing Wednesday and called for proper handing of the case, expressing concern that Japan’s political scene has recently been plagued by a series of money scandals involving lawmakers and their secretaries.

Tsujimoto put two women — one from October 1996 to March 1997 and another from April 1997 to December 1998 — on her roster as policy secretaries, their salaries paid by the government.

Police said the government paid Tsujimoto more than 15 million yen as salaries for the two policy secretaries, but she paid only a fraction to the two women.

The first woman was allegedly paid 77,000 yen a month and the second 50,000 yen. Police suspect Tsujimoto used the rest of the money to run her office.

Tsujimoto, speaking at a news conference after a weekly magazine broke the alleged misdeeds in March 2002, denied committing fraud and said she did not divert the money for personal matters.

She resigned her seat the same month. She told the Diet that her two policy secretaries had donated part of their salaries to her, but acknowledged that the income was not reported in her annual political funds statements as required by law.

Tsujimoto also said at the time that the women were introduced to her by Masako Goto, 66, a policy secretary for SDP chief Takako Doi, but denied allegations that she only made use of their names, insisting that the women did actually work for her.

Tsujimoto returned 23 million yen, including interest, to the government last August, saying she should not have received the money. She again denied committing fraud.

MPD investigators suspect that the two women did not actually work for Tsujimoto’s office, and that she effectively borrowed their names.

Tsujimoto has kept a low profile since surrendering her Diet seat 16 months ago. There has been lingering speculation that the SDP may field Tsujimoto in the next general election of the Lower House, which must be held by June 2004.

Tsujimoto was policy chief of the SDP when the scandal broke. She still serves as a representative of the opposition party’s Osaka prefectural chapter and remains a popular figure in her former constituency in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture.

Asked to comment on reports that police are focusing on Tsujimoto, Doi said at Tottori airport: “I leave the matter to (Tsujimoto) and her lawyers. The party will keep watch” over how things will develop.

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