Tokyo police on Friday arrested former Diet member Kiyomi Tsujimoto on suspicion of committing fraud by skimming government salaries for her policy secretaries.

Tsujimoto, 43, a member of the Social Democratic Party, resigned from the House of Representatives when the scandal broke in March 2002.

Three others, including Masako Goto, a 66-year-old former policy secretary to SDP chief Takako Doi, were also arrested in connection with the case.

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

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

Police said the government transferred more than 15 million yen to Tsujimoto to cover the salaries of 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.

A weekly magazine broke the scandal, but Tsujimoto maintained that her actions did not constitute fraud and she did not divert the money for personal use.

She resigned from the Diet soon after the magazine story came out. She told the Diet that the 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 Goto, 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.

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