A former policy secretary to Social Democratic Party chief Takako Doi has told investigators that diverting government salaries for lawmakers’ aides was a “common practice” among Diet members, police officials said Tuesday.

Masako Goto was arrested last week in connection with a fraud case against former Lower House member Kiyomi Tsujimoto.

“At that time, the practice was so widespread among lawmakers, both in the ruling and opposition camps, that I did not see any particular problem with it,” police quoted Goto as saying.

She was arrested Friday on suspicion of playing a key role in the Tsujimoto affair. A former Lower House member from the SDP, Tsujimoto allegedly skimmed 19 million yen worth of government salaries intended for her policy secretaries.

Goto is suspected of introducing to Tsujimoto two aides, Keiko Umezawa and Yoshie Sasaki, who were arrested Friday along with Tsujimoto.

Tsujimoto allegedly put the two women on her roster as policy secretaries — one from October 1996 to March 1997 and the other from April 1997 to December 1998. Their salaries were paid by the government even though they did not actually work for her office.

Tsujimoto passed along only a fraction of the government-paid wages to Umezawa and Sasaki and diverted the rest to cover the personnel costs of other workers at her office, according to Metropolitan Police Department.

MPD investigators suspect that Goto, who had deep knowledge of the inner workings of Diet business as a longtime aide to the SDP chief, was the mastermind of the alleged scheme.

Immediately after Tsujimoto was first elected to the Diet in October 1996, Goto approached several people linked to the SDP, including Umezawa and Sasaki. She asked them to help Tsujimoto by “lending” their names to be registered as Tsujimoto’s secretaries, MPD officials said.

“I had heard that a number of other Diet members did it to raise money to cover their political expenses,” Goto reportedly told the investigators.

Tsujimoto is the fourth former or incumbent Diet member to be arrested in connection with misappropriation of government-paid salaries to secretaries.

Goto’s arrest has led to a barrage of criticism against SDP chief Doi herself. While Doi denied Saturday she intends to resign, some ruling coalition members have urged her to step down as chief of the opposition party.

On Monday, senior SDP executives held a special meeting and confirmed they will continue to support Doi. They also agreed that a meeting of representatives from the party’s local organizations should be held to discuss the matter.

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