• Kyodo, Staff Report

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A local Democratic Party faction of the Toyama Municipal Assembly said Wednesday that it has received about ¥11.8 million in political funds from cooked-up receipts between fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2015 that ended in March.

Earlier in the day, two more assembly members affiliated with the DP submitted a letter of resignation to the assembly’s speaker over the dubious spending of political funds. Their resignations are expected to be approved by the assembly on Wednesday next week.

Tsuneki Hariyama, 70, the faction’s secretary-general, admitted Tuesday he had been telling the staff of the faction’s secretariat to manipulate receipts and make false claims to receive political funds. Ichiro Takata, 69, head of the DP faction of the assembly, also admitted his involvement.

Out of the 40-member municipal assembly, five members who belong to the Liberal Democratic Party faction have admitted manipulating receipts, out of which three have resigned. Chozaemon Asana, another assemblyman from the faction, said Wednesday he was also involved and would submit a letter of resignation on Thursday.

Hariyama told a news conference Tuesday that the ways to manipulate receipts had been handed down from a former head of the DP faction, who passed away in 2010.

He said he told staff to change the figures on the receipts or obtain blank receipts to report fictitious expenses. He added that the acquired funds, which totaled several million yen, were transferred into his and Takata’s accounts.

Hariyama also admitted that part of the funds were used as campaign money for the assembly election in 2013.

A similar political funds scandal in Toyama first surfaced in July when vice speaker for the Toyama Prefectural Assembly Hajime Yago, a veteran LDP lawmaker, admitted to receiving a total of about ¥4.8 million in political funds by forging receipts that showed he purchased books. Yago later resigned as assemblyman.

According to the Local Autonomy Law, political funds are provided to local lawmakers and parties to support their political and research activities.

But those funds have been misused numerous times in the past.

In July, Ryutaro Nonomura, a former Hyogo Prefectural Assembly member who was ridiculed for weeping hysterically at a 2014 news conference, received a suspended sentence for pocketing travel allowances by claiming funds for nonexistent business trips from fiscal 2011 to 2013.

Experts say those political funds lack sufficient monitoring of how they are actually used.

In some cases, for the public to check the receipts of the assembly members, they need to apply for information disclosure. As for the Toyama case, a local media outlet went through the hefty receipts before they found the dubious spending.

Due to the rising criticism, some assemblies are disclosing receipts used for political funds online or appointing a third party to check their usage.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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