Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said Monday he will remain in office after a probe determined that his use of political funds on a number of occasions was improper but not illegal.
During a news conference at the metropolitan government building in Shinjuku Ward, two lawyers appointed by Masuzoe to conduct the investigation said that while his use of funds did not violate the law, many instances appeared inappropriate.
Lawyer Tetsuya Morimoto noted 14 cases where expenses incurred for dining at high-end Chinese and Italian restaurants and sushi bars could be deemed unnecessary for work.
At one such dinner, Masuzoe doled out ¥80,000.
Morimoto also referred to stays at hotels booked as conference expenses, including family vacations at a hotel resort on New Year’s Eve in 2013 and 2014.
It has emerged that Masuzoe booked costs for dining at high-end restaurants and purchases of pricey artworks in the governor’s expense reports as conference charges or reference materials.
The ¥370,000 listed as expenses for holding meetings at a hotel in Chiba Prefecture in 2013 and 2014 — before Masuzoe became governor — were actually spent on hotel accommodations for his family during the New Year’s holiday season.
Masuzoe said he would correct the reports and donate the amount of expenses deemed inappropriate to charity.
Morimoto, meanwhile, said that an hourlong conference held while vacationing or during gatherings at restaurants in the company of family members can “hardly be called appropriate.”
Following the claims of improper conduct in a weekly magazine in late March, Masuzoe admitted to diverting ¥455,000 to fund hotel stays and dinners at restaurants before assuming his current post in February 2014, saying that he would correct related reports and return the money.
“Having received such severe criticism, I realize how embarrassing my conduct has been,” Masuzoe said Monday, adding that he planned to sell his villa in the hot-spring resort town of Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture.
The other lawyer appointed by Masuzoe was Zenzo Sasaki, who headed the committee that investigated former trade minister Yuko Obuchi’s alleged misuse of political funds.
The controversy surrounding the governor’s conduct heated up following a barrage of revelations that public money had been used for wining and dining his family and for art-related purchases.
While denying the allegation that purchases of expensive art books and catalogs were unnecessary, Sasaki said the number of actual artworks, some of which are displayed in Masuzoe’s offices, was definitely unreasonable.
Sasaki also said that during their hearing with Masuzoe, the governor could not recall the details of some dubious expenditures leaving questions over whether money was related to work.
While Masuzoe reiterated his determination to work for the citizens of Tokyo, he refused to clearly rule out resigning in the face of growing public anger and calls by Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members to step down.
During his regular news conference Friday, Masuzoe said he would wait for the investigation results before deciding whether to quit his post.
The governor is expected to be questioned by the assembly Tuesday and Wednesday. The series of assembly sessions will end June 15.
“I would like draw a clear line from today,” Masuzoe said, “so as not to spark any criticism in the future.”
He called Monday’s news conference after intense pressure from the assembly.
On Wednesday he once again apologized in front of assembly members for causing trouble and expressed his commitment to better respond to citizens’ expectations and regain the public’s trust.
He also promised not to fly first class again and curb foreign trip costs but did not touch on other accusations.
As of Friday, more than 23,000 complaints had been registered with the governor’s office.
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