National

Former LDP lawmaker held over embezzlement

Tokyo prosecutors on Thursday arrested a former lawmaker of the Liberal Democratic Party and served fresh warrants on two former executives of the Japan Dental Association for allegedly embezzling 30 million yen from the industry group.

Prosecutors said Yukihiro Yoshida, 42, and the two executives embezzled the money in 2002 by passing it off as a donation to Yoshida from the dental association’s political group.

Yoshida, who is also a former dentist, failed to be re-elected in November’s House of Representatives election. He was arrested by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, which served new warrants on Sadao Usuda, 73, a former chairman of the association, and Hirotake Uchida, 63, its former director.

Usuda and Uchida were already in custody and have been charged in a separate bribery case involving the dental association.

Yoshida is the first politician to be arrested in connection with the scam involving the association. The last time a serving or former Diet lawmaker was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement was former Labor Minister Toshio Yamaguchi, in December 1995.

By launching a full-scale investigation into the embezzlement case, prosecutors hope to fully probe the flow of political contributions by the dental association’s political arm, sources close to the investigation said.

Prosecutors said the three suspects conspired to withdraw 50 million yen from the political group’s account as a political donation to Yoshida.

Usuda instructed Uchida to withdraw the amount sometime around 2002, they alleged. The money was delivered to Yoshida but later returned to the group, and 30 million yen of the amount was used for Usuda’s bid for re-election as association chairman in March 2003, they said.

Usuda first won the association’s chairmanship election in 2000 and was easily re-elected in the 2003 election.

Usuda has denied using the money for private purposes, telling investigators that he spent the money to help finance the association’s campaign to choose candidates for last Sunday’s House of Councilors election, according to the investigative sources.

The association’s opaque donations to politicians and bureaucrats first came to light in February, after the special investigation department of the Tokyo prosecutors searched its facilities over allegations that it falsified political donation records.

In April, seven people, including Usuda and former Social Insurance Agency chief Takeshi Shimomura, were arrested for allegedly giving and receiving bribes to secure legal changes that would benefit dentists. They were indicted the following month.

After Usuda became chairman in 2000, the political group’s money contributions to Yoshida soared. Data on Yoshida’s political funds show that he received 100 million yen from the dental association over a three-year period through 2002.

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