• Kyodo

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The head of the Hokkaido Prefectural Police admitted Friday that a police station in the city of Asahikawa had “inappropriately executed” its budget in 1995 and 1997.

Chief Katsuharu Ashikari’s admission, which came during a meeting of the General Affairs Committee of the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly, was the first time Hokkaido police have acknowledged there were improprieties in its accounting methods.

The force has been under fire since allegations surfaced in late November that money allocated for use as rewards for people who contributed to investigations was instead being used to create slush funds. Suspicions were aroused when an apparent copy of the Asahikawa Chuo Police Station accounts was leaked.

Hokkaido police set up an in-house probe after the prefecture’s auditors said the allegations “left room for doubt.”

On Feb. 10, Koji Harada, a former chief of its Kushiro Area Headquarters, revealed that the force systematically pooled money into such slush funds.

“We have confirmed that there were cases of inappropriate execution of the budget,” Ashikari said, announcing the interim results of an internal investigation into the matter. “I offer my deepest apologies.”

According to the interim report, the deputy head of the Asahikawa Chuo Police Station distributed the reward money in bulk sums of several thousand yen to division heads at the start of each month.

But the money, which is supposed to be handed to individual officers to pass on to those selected for a reward, was instead spent on such things as meals and entertainment, the report says. It does not say how much money was misspent in this way.

The in-house probe determined from seal imprints and penmanship on the alleged copy of the internal accounting documents that it was “highly likely” it was a copy of the originals. Hokkaido police had refused to acknowledge the copy could have been taken from the originals. They had said it could not be determined where the copy had come from.

Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi said Friday she may file a request next week with the prefecture’s auditors to carry out an audit into the force’s reward money budget and travel expenses for the six years between fiscal 1998 and fiscal 2003.

Ashikari told a news conference later in the day that a decision on whether to return the money or reprimand those involved would be made after seeing the final results of the probe.

The police force is investigating other allegations of improper pooling of public funds by Harada and Kunio Saito, former deputy head of the Teshikaga Police Station in Teshikaga, eastern Hokkaido.

Harada, who had been involved in the practice since 1964, said he revealed the scam because it was time for police to purge themselves. He said he was able to get money from the accounting section when he was a section chief at a police station by submitting the necessary papers carrying the name of a nonexistent person who “assisted in the investigation.”

Saito said he left the force seven years before retirement age in March 2001 because he became sick of pooling money in the slush funds.

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