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Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has indirectly admitted his involvement in a dubious flow of political funds to the faction led by himself. Going back on his previous denial that a 100 million yen check was accepted, Mr. Hashimoto said “it (the alleged acceptance) probably is a fact.”

Throughout a closed session on Tuesday of the Lower House Political Ethics Council, however, he denied playing any role in handling the donation from the Japan Dental Association (JDA) in a way that violated the Political Funds Control Law.

The fact that the council meeting allowed only some Diet members to sit in and was not open to the public has fueled public distrust of politics. Rather than promoting an elucidation of the circumstances behind the scandal, it brought the Diet’s blatant lack of self-cleansing power into relief. Mr. Hashimoto said he has “no intention” of resigning from the Diet.

In the scandal, Mr. Toshiyuki Takigawa, a former treasurer of the Heisei Kenkyukai, the intraparty group headed by Mr. Hashimoto within the Liberal Democratic Party, has been arrested and prosecuted on a charge of failing to include the 100 million yen donation in the group’s financial statement as required by law. In the first hearing of the case by the Tokyo District Court, Mr. Takigawa admitted to the charge.

As for the politicians who have been implicated, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka, who was acting chairman of the faction, has been indicted without arrest. Mr. Muraoka is suspected of having agreed at an executive meeting of the faction that the donation would not be entered on the faction’s financial statement and that the faction would not issue a receipt to the JDA.

Former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, the faction’s secretary general at the time, has been given a suspended indictment, as his involvement in the case is not thought to have been so serious. Mr. Hashimoto has not been indicted, since he was in hospital at the time of the executive meeting.

While the case has led to prosecutions based on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, the bribery aspect of the large donation — in which the JDA is suspected of having sought some kind of favor in return — has been ignored. The mystery has also led to Mr. Muraoka’s voicing distrust of Mr. Hashimoto and others. Mr. Muraoka has insisted on his innocence at a meeting of members of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and has indicated his willingness to appear before the Diet as a sworn witness.

In the face of these moves by Mr. Muraoka, as well as the prosecution’s opening statement at the Tokyo District Court trial, which included vivid sketches in the description of accepting the donation — it seems that Mr. Hashimoto had no alternative but to acknowledge the receipt of the check.

Mr. Hashimoto was allegedly accompanied on the occasion by Mr. Nonaka and Mr. Mikio Aoki, the LDP’s secretary general in the House of Councilors. Mr. Nonaka says he was not there, and Mr. Aoki has repeated that he does not remember. With Mr. Hashimoto’s admission, however, part of the case at last seems to have come into view.

The Political Ethics Council is convened at the request of the Diet member concerned. Unlike the testimony of sworn witnesses before the Diet, the lawmaker concerned is not subject to the crime of perjury even if he or she tells a lie. Depending on the content of the testimony, the council can, for example, recommend that a Diet member refrain from attending the Diet for a certain period, but basically the system stands on the lawmaker’s side.

We would not like to think that Mr. Hashimoto’s aim was to use the council in order to gain a kind of pardon, but his behavior there does bring to mind the description of the council as a “refuge for suspected lawmakers.” The attitude of a former prime minister who demanded that the meeting be held behind closed doors mocks the Diet’s right to investigate state affairs. If the case cannot be elucidated in the Political Ethics Council, the obvious next step is to summon the lawmaker to testify before the Diet as a sworn witness.

The JDA case also has exposed the shady structural reality of the relationship between politics and money, including the problem of roundabout donations involving the Kokumin Seiji Kyokai, the LDP’s political funds organization.

The JDA case has brought the former Hashimoto faction, the largest faction in the LDP, to the verge of collapse. It is obvious that the essence of the problem does not lie with that faction alone.

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