Prosecutors on Sunday arrested a former treasurer of the largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party over a political donation scandal involving the Japan Dental Association.
The faction, known as Heisei Kenkyukai (Heisei Study Group), had been headed by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto until last month, when the scandal forced him to quit.
Toshiyuki Takigawa, 55, allegedly violated the Political Funds Control Law by failing to promptly declare 100 million yen in political donations that Hashimoto received from the dentist association in July 2001.
The special investigative squad from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office also searched several locations in connection with the case, including the faction’s office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
The prosecutors are expected to question Hashimoto as an unsworn witness. He allegedly received the 100 million yen from Sadao Usuda, former chairman of the Japan Dental Association.
According to investigations and other sources, Usuda, 73, and Hirotake Uchida, 63, a former director of the dentist group, met with Hashimoto at a Tokyo restaurant just weeks before the July 2001 House of Councilors election and handed him an envelope containing a 100 million yen check for the campaign.
Usuda has been quoted as telling prosecutors that two LDP heavyweights from the faction — Hiromu Nonaka and Mikio Aoki — were also present at the meeting and confirmed that a 100 million yen check was transferred. Uchida, meanwhile, told prosecutors that although he repeatedly asked the faction for a receipt for the donation, it did not give him one.
Hashimoto has said he does not remember accepting the check.
Both Usuda and Uchida are currently standing trial on charges of offering bribes.
The money came from the dental association’s political arm, investigative sources said, adding that the check was cashed and deposited into the Hashimoto faction’s bank account in July 2001.
The faction did not list the 100 million yen donation in its 2001 political funds report, which did include an entry that the faction received 1 million yen from the dental group’s political arm.
The faction said it corrected the political funds report on July 14 this year.
Prior to his arrest, Takigawa reportedly said he received the check from Hashimoto and cashed it, and that he — Takigawa — was responsible for the money not being properly reported.
A graduate of Waseda University in Tokyo, he was a longtime secretary to late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi when he was the faction’s leader. After Obuchi’s death he became head of the secretariat of the faction, which Hashimoto inherited.
Prosecutors are also expected to establish a criminal case against Usuda and Uchida for failing to list the donation in the dental association’s accounts.
On July 30, lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan filed an accusation against Hashimoto with prosecutors for allegedly failing to declare the 100 million yen donation from the dentist group’s political arm.
The same day, Hashimoto resigned as head of the faction. He was prime minister from 1996 to 1998 and became head of the faction in July 2000.
Political leaders voiced regret over the incident and pledged to take steps to prevent a recurrence of similar scandals.
“It is regrettable,” LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe said in a statement issued after Takigawa’s arrest. “The issue of (the shady links between) politics and money has been pointed out before, so we need to straighten ourselves out.
“We would like to promote party reforms to make issues concerning political funds more transparent,” Abe added.
Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, secretary general of New Komeito, the LDP’s ally in the ruling coalition, issued a statement saying Sunday’s developments were regrettable.
“New Komeito believes there is a problem with (the current system) of having no restrictions on the transfer of money among political bodies,” he said.
Meanwhile, opposition parties criticized the LDP over its practices concerning political donations.
“I am startled that such outdated practices are still being conducted,” Hirohisa Fujii, secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said in a statement.
“We will work toward strengthening the Political Funds Control Law by strengthening restrictions on illegal donations and prohibiting donations from companies that have won contracts for public works projects,” he said.
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