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Editorial: Ex-minister's story on 2 million yen from Kake staffer fails to convince

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Hakubun Shimomura admitted at a June 29 news conference that the then chief secretary at Kake Educational Institution had handed Shimomura's office a total of 2 million yen for tickets to fundraising parties in 2013 and 2014, when he was education minister.

According to Shimomura, who now serves as executive acting secretary-general of the ruling LDP, 1 million yen was collected in each year from 11 individuals and companies other than Kake Educational Institution, and was brought to Shimomura's office by the private school operator's chief secretary.

His explanation, however, raises suspicions that he may have wanted to conceal the provision of funds by the Kake group -- headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The group is now at the center of allegations of prime ministerial favoritism over its plan to establish a veterinary school in a national strategic special zone in Ehime Prefecture.

One is tempted to question whether the 2 million yen was really entrusted to the chief secretary from 11 individuals and firms, and even to suspect that the former education minister may have spread out the ticket purchasers to conceal any names. Shimomura's political group, Hakuyukai, did not record the 2 million yen in its funding reports.

Under the Political Funds Control Act, political groups must report the names of individuals and firms paying more than 200,000 yen for a fundraising party. Shimomura indicated that his political group did not need to record the 2 million yen because the amount paid by each of the 11 individuals and companies was less than 200,000 yen, and that the lack of records is therefore not illegal.

However, whether the amount paid by each purchaser was really short of 200,000 yen has not been verified. Shimomura should reveal the names of the purchasers and the amount each of them paid, but he has refused to do so for "privacy" reasons. This makes his explanations rather unconvincing.

The Political Funds Control Act also has provisions on "mediation" of party ticket purchases, and calls for the names of intermediaries to be recorded in the political funding report if the total amount collected tops 200,000 yen.

If events unfolded exactly as Shimomura has said, the Kake chief secretary's actions exactly meet the definition of "mediation" under the political funds law, raising the possibility that the absence of records is illegal.

Kake Educational Institution, meanwhile, has also denied having paid the money in question to Shimomura, but its explanation is far from sufficient over why the chief secretary needed to collect the party ticket fees.

Because the education ministry gave the green light to the establishment of the Faculty of Education at Okayama University of Science, a school affiliated with the Kake group, during Shimomura's tenure as education minister, suspicions also arise that the two parties were acting in mutual self-interest.

Shimomura, who is a close ally of Prime Minister Abe and is chairman of the LDP's Tokyo chapter, blasted the recent media reports about the 2 million yen ticket buy, saying, "The coverage of the issue in the final stage of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race is aimed at obstructing our campaigns."

However, the Tokyo election has nothing to do with efforts to clarify these questions. We call on Shimomura to provide an in-depth explanation.

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