Scandal-hit economic minister Akira Amari, a close aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, renewed his pledge Thursday to answer allegations that since 2013 he and two of his secretaries received large undeclared donations in possible violation of political funding laws.
Shukan Bunshun, a weekly magazine, reported in its Thursday edition that Amari and the two secretaries received donations and enjoyed wining and dining worth at least ¥12 million, all of which was proffered by an unidentified construction company based in Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture.
If true, the allegations would develop into a serious political scandal, dealing a heavy blow to Abe’s Cabinet. It could also considerably delay Diet deliberations to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, for which Amari was Japan’s top negotiator, as well as other related bills, observers said.
During an Upper House committee session, Amari stressed that he would run a “thorough fact check” of the allegations and ensure he is accountable.
“I swear, I will not run away,” Amari said.
According to the weekly, Amari’s offices failed to note much of the donations in official political funds reports, which would contravene the Political Funds Control Law.
The weekly also said that accepting the money would violate a law prohibiting Diet members and their political secretaries from exerting influence over a public contract or making an administrative decision.
The weekly, quoting a man working at the construction company, alleged Amari himself directly received a total of ¥1 million in cash on two occasions — on Nov. 14, 2013, and Feb. 1, 2014 — during meetings between himself and the company’s president.
The magazine quoted the worker under what it said was his real name, Takeshi Isshiki.
According to the article, Isshiki visited Amari’s office in 2013 in the hope that one of the minister’s secretaries would help the company settle conflicts with public housing corporation Urban Renaissance Agency (UR) over a local redevelopment project.
In November the same year, Isshiki personally met with Amari at his office to give him an envelope containing ¥500,000 as a “token of appreciation,” along with a yokan bean confection, according to the article.
After the problems with UR came to a temporary resolution, Isshiki gave the secretary ¥5 million in cash, a large chunk of which went unrecorded in the official political funds reports, according to the magazine.
Isshiki reportedly provided the weekly with more than 50 hours of audio data and “a vast amount of materials” as evidence, including receipts from Amari’s office.
During the Upper House session, Amari said part of his memory of the alleged meetings was “unclear,” and that he knew nothing of the reported misdeeds of his secretaries until he read the magazine article earlier in the day.
Although Amari avoidedaddressing the scandal itself, Amari did repeatedly state that he had done nothing wrong.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that Amari will attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as planned. Amari is planning to visit Davos from Friday to Sunday.
Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University, said that if the allegations are true, Amari could have violated the law prohibiting Diet members from interfering in public contract or administrative decisions, in addition to the Political Funds Control Law.
But legally speaking, the odds seem slim that Amari will actually be indicted on the former, Iwai said. As economic minister, Amari is not directly in a position to supervise a construction project, making it hard to establish his influence over UR, he added.
Should Amari resign to end the turmoil over the alleged scandal, damage to the Abe administration would be “immeasurably huge,” Iwai said, because it would derail Diet deliberations on the TPP agreement and even undermine the Abe government’s effort to win the Upper House election in the summer.
When the problem with UR resurfaced later, Isshiki began to meet routinely with the secretary and another worker from Amari’s office, often hobnobbing with them and going to Filipino bars — all at his expense, the tabloid said.
“I began harboring mistrust of the secretaries after it occurred to me that they were basically trying to sponge off me,” Isshiki was quoted as saying in the Shukan Bunshun. “That is not the kind of attitude you’re supposed to take toward your supporter.”
Staff Writer Mizuho Aoki Contributed To This Report.
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