Former LDP policy chief denies involvement in political funds scandal

A former senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has denied involvement in the fundraising scandal bedeviling Japan's largest political party.

Former LDP policy chief Shimomura Hakubun was questioned at a meeting of the Lower House political ethics panel on Monday. He previously belonged to the faction once led by the late Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Shimomura apologized, and told the panel the scandal had caused public distrust and skepticism of politics.

But he denied any knowledge of the faction's accounting practices. He said he was never consulted about faction members' financial reports, gave instructions to the faction's secretariat about accounting matters, or knew the faction was paying kickbacks.

He said the faction leaders and the head of the secretariat might have decided not to record kickbacks in faction members' financial reports.

Shimomura commented on Abe's proposal in April of 2022 to drop the practice of cash kickbacks for the sake of transparency. Shimomura said there was no mention from Abe of the failure to enter kickbacks in financial reports or the illegality of the practice.

In August 2022, after Abe died, senior faction officials met to discuss kickbacks, which had been paid in return for members' selling extra fundraising party tickets. Shimomura said the meeting was held under the assumption that they would stop the practice. He said they discussed the idea of buying back party tickets from members instead of relying on kickbacks, but that no decision was reached.

He denied allegations that they decided how to continue using kickbacks at the meeting.

A lawmaker from the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party asked why the faction did not consider donating money to individual members outright instead of buying back member's fundraising party tickets.

Shimomura responded that under the assumption the faction would eliminate kickbacks, they were discussing how else to pay money to members who sold extra party tickets. He said some at the meeting agreed to the idea of buying back party tickets.

Shimomura said he honestly does not know when, how or who in the faction decided to continue with kickbacks.