NAGOYA – Kanju Sato, a former Cabinet minister and until last week a Diet member, was arrested Sunday along with his wife and another person for allegedly misappropriating some 17 million yen from the government intended as salary for one of his secretaries.
Sato’s wife, Miyoko, 52, is believed to have overseen financial accounts for the 62-year-old Sato. The third person arrested by the Aichi Prefectural Police was Seiki Asada, a close associate of Sato who allegedly arranged to have his wife’s name registered as the secretary.
Both Sato, who earlier in the day turned himself in to police for questioning, and his wife have denied the allegations. However, Asada, 66, has said they are true, according to the police.
Sato was a veteran lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan from Aichi Prefecture who once served as home affairs minister and chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, which oversees Japan’s police.
On Friday he was expelled from the party and his resignation from the Diet was accepted. His arrest comes less than a week after the scandal erupted.
This is the fifth case of a lawmaker allegedly embezzling government funds intended for their secretaries. It follows that of Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a former Social Democratic Party lawmaker who last month was given a suspended prison term for embezzlement.
Before Sato turned himself in, he called a news conference at the Aichi Prefectural Government building and denied any intention to defraud the government.
“Fraud is something that must not be committed, especially by a person like myself who once served as home affairs minister,” he said.
The Home Affairs Ministry was tasked with overseeing politicians’ funds under the Political Funds Control Law. It is now part of the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry after a realignment of ministries and agencies.
While Sato said he “had no intention” to embezzle the money, he did acknowledge that almost all the funds intended as salary for the registered secretary were used to run his office.
“There was an oversight on my part. I would like to apologize to the public,” Sato said during the news conference, adding that he would immediately return the money to the House of Representatives.
Sato is suspected of registering Asada’s 51-year-old wife as one of his secretaries from June 2000 to April 2003, and pocketing more than 17 million yen earmarked for her pay.
Asada’s wife earlier told police she did not actually work for him and received no salary. Sato on Sunday told them he thought she was working for him, the police said.
The practice apparently continued even after former lawmaker Joji Yamamoto was arrested for embezzlement of a secretary’s salary in September 2000 and the scandal over Tsujimoto’s embezzlement came to light in March 2002.
The Aichi police believe Sato played a key role in the latest fraud, as Asada told investigators the former minister asked if he could list Asada’s wife as a secretary, sources close to the investigation said.
Asada, former chairman of the Bisai Municipal Assembly in Aichi Prefecture, is a longtime friend of Sato and once worked as his secretary. He was indicted in February on charges of taking bribes from a local contractor over a public works project when he was an assembly member.