Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura admitted Thursday that his secretary had urged support groups not to speak to reporters about allegations that he misused political funds.
During a Lower House Budget Committee session, Shimomura said his secretary had emailed regional support groups telling them that if they received media inquiries they were to refer them to his office.
He said that the secretary did not intend for the move to be a prohibition on speaking, but a measure to prevent reporters getting the wrong picture.
Shimomura added that the secretary told the voluntary groups that his office had handled the donations correctly and that there was no need for them to worry.
Shimomura said the email message was not sent at his initiative.
The secretary felt the support groups were “struggling to deal with media inquiries,” Shimomura told the Diet. “But, of course, it was not my instruction.”
On Tuesday, Shimomura was grilled by a Democratic Party of Japan member who produced the message, showed it to lawmakers and asked Shimomura to confirm its existence.
Shimomura has drawn considerable media scrutiny since Shunkan Bunshun magazine last week alleged he may have received illegal donations from regional support groups in the past.
The allegations threaten to pose another headache for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has lost three ministers to funding scandals in less than six months.
Justice Minister Midori Matsushima and trade chief Yuko Obuchi resigned in October last year, and farm minister Koya Nishikawa quit last month.
The article said membership fees for the voluntary groups were improperly donated to a Tokyo chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that Shimomura heads.
Under the Political Funds Control Law, 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. These groups are not registered as political organizations.
Shimomura has denied the allegations, saying that the six regional groups are voluntary organizations engaged in friendly activities, and his office has no involvement in their operation or financial activity.
On Thursday, Shukan Bunshun quoted a former executive member of one group as saying he had paid Shimomura ¥100,000 in lecture fees in the past.
Shimomura denied it.
“As I said before, I have not received any fees for lecture or transportation,” he said in answer to questions from DPJ member Kensuke Onishi.
“I don’t know how he said it, but there was no such thing. I guess it’s some kind of misunderstanding.”