Farm minister Koya Nishikawa's denial of illegal activity in a ¥1 million donation to a Liberal Democratic Party chapter he heads — from a company run by the sugar manufacturers' association after it received ¥1.3 billion in government subsidies — appears to stand on mere technicality. He returned the money Tuesday morning after a newspaper report broke the story, but if the donation was legitimate, as Nishikawa insists, one wonders why he felt it necessary to return it.

The Political Funds Control Law bans political donations by companies and organizations within a year after they've received government subsidies. The ¥1 million donation to the Tochigi No. 2 constituency branch of the LDP was made in July 2013 — four months after the Japan Sugar Refiners' Association was granted a farm ministry subsidy of ¥1.3 billion in a program to promote stable sugar cane production.

Nishikawa, who became farm minister last September, says the donation was legitimate because it was made by a Tokyo-based building management company run by the sugar industry association, not by the association itself. The association and the firm are in the same building, and the association chairman doubles as the company's president.