The suicide of farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka amid political funds scandals is both shocking and sad. It is regrettable that he chose to kill himself rather than sincerely answer questions over the suspicions surrounding him. Mr. Matsuoka’s suicide should come as a political blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who continued to defend him by saying that he had fulfilled his responsibility under the Political Funds Control Law.

When Mr. Abe appointed Mr. Matsuoka as farm minister in September 2006, there already were suspicions about his handling of political funds. Mr. Abe has paid a big price for appointing him as a Cabinet member just because he was close to him.

Although Mr. Matsuoka’s political fund management organization is located in a Diet office where rent and utilities are free, it reported spending 28.8 million yen on utilities for five years through 2005. Mr. Matsuoka first offered a ridiculous explanation that the use of a water purifier cost a lot. Then he said the reports did not contain any irregularities and refused to explain how the money was used. His fund management body also reported spending more than 25 million yen yearly as office expenses.

Mr. Matsuoka’s fund management and other political organizations received a total of about 13 million yen as political donations over three years through 2005 from 14 contractors that have been awarded public works orders from the Japan Green Resources Agency, a forestry management entity affiliated with the farm ministry. The contractors are based in Mr. Matsuoka’s home prefecture of Kumamoto.

Separately, the same agency has been rocked by last week’s arrest of two agency officials and four officials from four contracting firms in connection with bid-rigging in forest road construction projects. Bid-rigging is also suspected in the Kumamoto projects and similar projects in Shimane Prefecture.

Mr. Abe and the Diet should do their best to ensure transparency in how politicians use their political funds by revising the law. Efforts also must be made to unravel the suspicions surrounding Mr. Matsuoka.

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