Lawyers accuse the Kyoto Prefectural LDP chapter of vote-buying

KYOTO – Kyoto Prefecture’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is facing accusations of buying local politicians’ votes with funds raised from candidates running in national elections.

But the party chapter denies any wrongdoing and said handing out money to candidates is a legitimate activity aimed at boosting the party’s strength.

A lawyer for the Kyoto branch of the Japan Lawyers Association for Freedom said the nature of the funding in question was apparent from the characterization in a document by a former party official.

“It’s easy to see from the use of the term ‘money laundering’ that the ultimate goal of the cash donations was elections,” the attorney said.

The association filed a criminal complaint with the Kyoto District Attorney’s Office in February against the head of the Kyoto Prefectural Chapter of the LDP and LDP prefectural candidates for the 2021 lower house elections for violating the Public Office Elections Law.

Local branches and political organizations, led by the six local LDP candidates running in the fall 2017 lower house elections, donated between 2 million yen ($16,600) and 7 million yen to the party’s prefectural federation, according to the reports political fund of the chapter.

According to the documents, a total of 24.5 million yen was handed over to the chapter about a month before the election.

The section then distributed 24.5 million yen, or 500,000 yen each, to its local sections and political organizations, represented by 49 party-affiliated members of Kyoto Prefecture and City Assembly.

The chapter’s political fund reports listed similar cash flows for the 2016 and 2019 House of Lords elections and the 2014 House of Commons election.

Hiroshi Ando, ​​a former member of the lower house who ran in 2012, 2014 and 2017, admitted in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that he had wired funds to the prefectural chapter.

“I knew the money would go to members of the local congregation,” he said, but denied it was used to buy votes.

“It was a long-term practice,” he says. “I have also been told by senior LDP lawmakers and prefectural chapter secretariat staff that there are no legal issues in giving money to local assembly members through the prefectural chapter.”

The public office election law prohibits candidates from giving money to voters in their constituencies, a practice known as “vote-buying”.

However, the Political Funds Control Act does not prevent political organizations from making donations to a political party, including its local chapters, even during an election season. Nor does it prevent parties from making donations to political groups during an election.

“The constitution guarantees freedom of political activity to a political group, and this principle should be respected as much as possible,” said an official with the Ministry of Interior and Communications.

As the monthly magazine Bungei Shunju first reported in February, in a 2014 handover document written for his successor, the former head of the prefectural chapter described the flow of money between candidates and members of the local assembly as political “money laundering”.

The former chief admitted to providing the handover report when asked by The Asahi Shimbun, who also received the document.

The man said it was a “personal note for his successor,” not an official internal document.

The person who took his job declined to be interviewed by the Asahi.

The handover report states that “expenditure on activities funded by each candidate must be made available to members of the prefectural and municipal assemblies after a campaign strategy meeting is held.”

“It is indeed a roundabout way, but candidates cannot give MPs directly (money) as this is considered vote-buying under the electoral law for public office,” she added. “So the prefectural chapter provides them with the money. It’s a kind of money laundering.”

Shoji Nishida, an LDP MP who heads the Kyoto prefectural chapter, denied knowledge of the handover report on his YouTube channel in February.

“I’ve never seen or heard of it,” he said. “I inquired about it with the staff at the chapter, but its existence has not been confirmed.”

Hideo Tanaka, an LDP member of the Kyoto Prefectural Assembly who serves as general secretary of the party’s prefectural chapter, said he received the funds earlier but said they used them for “publishing promotional brochures for candidates and renting campaign vehicles.” became.

Tanaka said there should be new rules on when such funds are spent to eliminate doubts about what the money is going for.

Nobuo Gohara, a former investigator with the Tokyo District Attorney’s Office, said it is extremely difficult to uncover alleged bribes within the judicial system.

“In many cases, offering donations to a political organization just before an election seems like soliciting favors related to election activities,” he said. “But determining whether the storyline constitutes vote-buying is difficult because it is tied to the subjective views of those involved.”

In the run-up to the election, Gohara called for a general ban on donating for candidates in order to curb the murky flow of money.

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