Former Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami pleaded not guilty Monday to paying his campaign staff after the Tokyo gubernatorial election in 2014.

“I was never involved in distributing the money, nor did I conspire to do so,” Tamogami, 67, wearing a white shirt and black suit, said in the first session of his trial at the Tokyo District Court. “I plead not guilty.”

Prosecutors said Tamogami, who became a conservative commentator after being fired as leader of the Air Self-Defense Force, was indicted for approving the use of campaign funds to pay his campaign staff for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in February 2014.

Nobuteru Shimamoto, 69, who was Tamogami’s campaign chief, and Arata Suzuki, 58, his accounting chief, were indicted on similar charges in separate trials. Suzuki has confessed and Shimamoto has not.

According to the indictment, Tamogami and Shimamoto paid a total of ¥2.8 million to five campaign staffers from March to May 2014 after his unsuccessful election run. Shimamoto also received ¥2 million for organizing Tamogami’s campaign, the prosecutors alleged.

The money was a part of more than ¥100 million in donations Tamogami had collected from supporters for the campaign, they said.

After the election, tens of millions of yen was left over, so Shimamoto allegedly decided to distribute it to the staff as a reward, and Tamogami allegedly approved the idea.

According to the indictment, when Shimamoto showed him the list of names and how much each would receive, Tamogami instructed him to increase certain amounts for certain people, and include former SDF colleagues who had delivered speeches in his support.

The Public Offices Election Law bans paying campaign staff because it is construed as bribery.

Tamogami was fired as the ASDF chief of staff in October 2008 after he wrote an essay justifying Japan’s wartime aggression. He retired from the ASDF soon after and became a popular conservative commentator.

Tamogami finished fourth in the election with about 610,000 votes, losing to Yoichi Masuzoe, who resigned earlier this month over a money scandal.

Tamogami’s next trial session is scheduled for July 20.

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