• Kyodo

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The audit committee of the Shiga Prefectural Government has recommended that members of the prefectural assembly belonging to a Liberal Democratic Party faction return about 3.1 million yen in public money it used for sacred tree branches at Yasukuni Shrine and other purposes, committee members said Monday.

Part of the public funds allotted for policy research activities had been used for “religious activities in violation of prefectural ordinances,” according to the recommendation issued to Gov. Yoshitsugu Kunimatsu.

About 20 faction members visited the Tokyo shrine in January and spent about 1,000 yen each from the prefectural coffers to buy the tree branches and pay for other expenses at the shrine, the panel said.

The assembly faction decided later Monday to return the money — roughly 3.1 million yen — to the prefectural coffers.

Takeshi Hirano, a professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto Prefecture, said using public money to buy sacred tree branches may be a violation of the Constitution, in light of a 1997 Supreme Court ruling on a similar case involving a former Ehime governor.

The faction was urged to return the funds, spent from fiscal 2000 to 2004, including money for a lecture considered “a political party activity.”

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