Education minister Hakubun Shimomura denied allegations published Thursday by a scandal-raking news magazine that he received illegal political funds, accusing the weekly of failing to confirm the facts.
The allegations by Shukan Bunshun threaten to become a further headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a week in which his farm minister, Koya Nishikawa, unexpectedly resigned, also amid persistent opposition questioning over political funds.
Abe has lost three Cabinet ministers to funding scandals in less than six months, including agriculture chief Nishikawa, trade chief Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima.
Shukan Bunshun said regional support groups acting on Shimomura’s behalf had not been registered as political organizations and therefore had improperly collected funds on his behalf. Moreover, they held regular gatherings with Shimomura present.
The Political Funds Control Law stipulates that any group that supports a politician or puts up a political candidate must register as a political group and submit reports on its income and expenditure of political funds.
Appearing before the Lower House Budget Committee, Shimomura said he had never received donations from the regional groups. He also described them as voluntary organizations set up by friends in the education industry.
Shimomura said only one group, based in Tokyo, is registered as a political group, and the other six, located outside his electorate in the capital, are voluntary organizations engaged in friendly activities.
Shimomura said he and his office have no operational or financial ties with the groups.
Those regional groups have “nothing to do with my political activities,” the close Abe ally told the Diet in response to questions from Democratic Party of Japan member Michiyoshi Yunoki.
The article “differs from the facts, and I feel strong resentment,” he said.
The magazine said a Liberal Democratic Party branch in Tokyo that Shimomura heads appears to have received donations from the regional groups but did not declare the money in its political funds reports.
Shimomura denied it, saying the six groups have never made donations to the LDP branch nor purchased fundraising tickets.
Some of those groups’ members, however, have made donations to the party branch or attended fundraising parties in Tokyo in their private capacities, Shimomura said. All such donations were registered in funding reports, he said.
As for the gatherings, Shimomura said such events were not held with political ends but were just friendly meetings. Shimomura addressed such gatherings, held about once a year, but did not financially benefit from them, he said.
As for reports the LDP branch got a ¥48,000 donation from a man who appears linked to the underworld, Shimomura said the branch returned it to the donor in January.
“There is no legal issue. If required, I’ll give further explanations,” Shimomura told reporters after the budget committee.
He said he will consider lodging a protest over the magazine’s report. Shimomura, a six-term Lower House lawmaker, was appointed as education minister by Abe in 2012.
He is known to have a lifelong interest in education matters as he himself suffered financial hardship from the age of 9 when his father died and the young Shimomura struggled to complete his schooling. He opened a cram school while at college.
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