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The Hakodate District Court on Monday ordered Mayor Hiroshi Inoue to return some 300,000 yen to the city coffers that was spent illegally by members of the assembly.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by a citizens’ ombudsman group in February 2003, claiming that assembly members had spent some 1.24 million yen earmarked as “political investigation funds” for purposes that were not linked to political activities.

Presiding Judge Masamichi Okubo ruled that some of the items the money was used for could not be considered politically significant.

“Items such as the purchase of educational materials to study English conversation do not have strong ties to the administration of the city, and clearly lack rationality as an expenditure to be covered by political investigation funds,” the judge said.

The ombudsman group had argued that the city had incurred some 1.24 million yen in damages in the fiscal 2001 budget, with nine assembly members from six political groups having used the money, for example, to spend on “inspections” that were mostly tours, and purchases of music CDs.

The assembly’s political groups told the court that members require a broad range of knowledge and that using the funds for various studies and probes does not violate the ordinance stipulating how the money should be used.

During the trial, Shoji Nakae, the assembly member who had purchased CDs with the money, caused an uproar by telling the court during testimony that assembly members have a certain degree of discretion over how the money is used, and that “citizens who present discussions that narrow down this discretionary right are cheapskates.” He subsequently resigned as head of the group he headed.

According to the ombudsman group, Nakae had used the money in question to buy CDs of flute performances. Each member of the Hakodate Municipal Assembly is given 70,000 yen a month as political investigation funds. In fiscal 2004, which ended March 31, a total of some 42 million yen was disbursed for this purpose.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, the assembly voluntarily decided to return some 260,000 yen that had been used for various items, including newspapers read by individual assembly members.

Reformer to retire

SENDAI (Kyodo) Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano said Monday he will not seek a fourth term, noting 12 years in office is “long enough.”

“There should be a limit to the time (someone can stay in a position) of power,” Asano, whose current term will expire in November, told a news conference. “The 12 years in three terms is long enough.”

In explaining his reason for stepping down, the 57-year-old reformer said, “You become defensive if you serve a long time as governor. The reform drive has reached a point where it will not turn back.”

Asano added that the real finishing touches on reforms can only be made by the active efforts of prefectural employees after he is gone.

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