Reports that prosecutors do not plan to indict former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka for allegedly misusing the salary of her state-funded secretary have set off a political firestorm not only in her home area but in Tokyo’s political center of Nagatacho.
Tanaka’s supporters in the No. 5 electoral district in Niigata Prefecture say she will definitely win if she runs in the House of Representatives election that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may call in the fall after dissolving the Lower House.
However, members of the Liberal Democratic Party, which suspended her membership last year after she faced a criminal complaint, have given the reports a cool response.
“She can’t do anything even if she returns to Diet politics,” one LDP lawmaker said of Tanaka, 59, who resigned from the Lower House in August.
The complaint accuses Tanaka of misappropriating 5.89 million yen in state-funded salary payments in 1997.
But prosecutors have reportedly said it would be extremely difficult to charge Tanaka with fraud because the secretary was actually working and Tanaka was not simply borrowing her name.
Tanaka’s case differs from that of Kiyomi Tsujimoto, 43, a former Lower House member of the Social Democratic Party who was arrested last month for allegedly misusing around 18.80 million yen in state-funded salary payments meant for her secretary, who did no actual work.
According to the complaint filed by the head of a political organization in the city of Nara, Tanaka made bus operator Echigo Kotsu Co. pay the salary of a company employee who was on loan to her as her secretary.
An investigation determined the secretary wanted to work on loan to continue to have access to health and unemployment insurance.
It also concluded that the salary from the government was kept in cash by the bus company and settled at the end of the fiscal year, and that the salary paid by the company to the secretary was roughly the same amount as that paid by the government.
Tanaka, the outspoken daughter of the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, was a key factor in the inauguration of Koizumi’s administration in April 2001 and was named foreign minister.
But Koizumi axed her in early 2002 because of what some perceived as diplomatic blunders, and amid her feud with top ministry officials and scandal-tainted ex-LDP bigwig Muneo Suzuki, who allegedly wielded strong influence over ministry affairs and is now on trial for bribery.
Following her sacking, the government’s popularity was halved to the 40 percent level, reflecting her popularity with the public.
Tanaka rejected the salary-misuse allegations during testimony to a Lower House committee but still gave up her Diet seat, citing lingering suspicions over her actions.
Late last year, she began soliciting support in her home area, and since the start of the year has been holding rallies to further raise her profile.
An executive of a support group said, “If it is officially decided to waive the indictment (against Tanaka), we will begin activities to help her win in the election.”
Tokyo prosecutors are set to decide this fall whether to press charges.
Another support group executive said: “There is an atmosphere in this area not to bully her. Even if she expresses her candidacy before the election is officially announced, we are sure she will win.”
Tanaka’s LDP membership will remain suspended until next June, making it impossible for her to run as an LDP candidate. She may, therefore, run as an independent, LDP sources said.
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