National

Hashimoto linked to shady 100 million yen from dental group

A former Japan Dental Association chairman tied to an embezzlement scandal sent a 100 million yen check from the coffers of the group’s political arm to former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto prior to the 2001 House of Councilors election, investigative sources said Thursday.

The check is viewed as a political donation from the association’s political group to Hashimoto’s faction in the Liberal Democratic Party, though the money was not listed in the political funding reports of either side, the sources said.

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into this alleged violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

The former chairman, 73-year-old Sadao Usuda, and Hirotake Uchida, 63, the association’s former director, gave the check to Hashimoto personally at a meeting in Tokyo prior to the July 2001 Upper House election.

Both Usuda and Uchida, who are under arrest on another charge, were served with fresh warrants Thursday for alleged embezzlement also in connection with a separate offense.

The dental association was then arranging to have former Chairman So Nakahara, a member of the Hashimoto faction, stand for re-election to the Upper House. The money is thought to have been given to Hashimoto in exchange for his faction’s cooperation in the re-election bid, the sources said.

Nakahara successfully retained his seat in the election on the LDP’s proportional representation list.

The check in question was cashed by a clerical official of the Hashimoto faction and the money was kept in a safe by the faction, according to the sources.

The official was quoted by the sources as saying, “It was my decision not to list the donation on the report.”

Later Thursday, Lower House member Yuji Tsushima, secretary general of the Hashimoto faction, confirmed that the faction received the money.

“It was inappropriate that the money was not listed on the report, and we apologize,” Tsushima told reporters.

But he said it was unclear who received the check from the dental association, adding that Hashimoto has told faction members that he “did not remember.”

Hashimoto is widely viewed as the ringleader among LDP politicians who consider themselves representatives of health and welfare interests. He has strong ties with the dentists’ group.

When approached by reporters, the former prime minister claimed he “does not know” about the acceptance of the check.

The Japan Dental Association has around 50,000 members and an annual budget of 1.8 billion yen.

A source close to the Hashimoto faction said it views the check as a donation and has corrected its political funding reports accordingly.

Sources familiar with the matter said the dental association had traditionally paid huge amounts of party dues through its members to the LDP.

In return, it had its Upper House election candidates ranked high on the party’s roster of candidates for the proportional representation segment of the ballot, thereby increasing their chances of victory.

However, the electoral system changed from the 2001 Upper House race, with proportional representation candidates no longer being listed in a predetermined order. As a result, the dental association was concerned that Nakahara might lose, the sources said.

The revelation came the same day Tokyo prosecutors arrested a former LDP lawmaker on suspicion of embezzling 30 million yen from the dental association, and served the new arrest warrants on Usuda and Uchida.

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