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Editorial: Tokyo governor needs to better explain money scandal

Allegations have surfaced that Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe paid for a family vacation at a resort hotel through his political fund group. Masuzoe held a news conference over the matter on May 13 and explained that he "held business meetings in a room" his family stayed at. His explanation was far from convincing, however, as he refused to reveal the details of the meetings, such as the number of participants.

At the news conference, Masuzoe admitted that his political funding report included the spending on private dining and said he would correct the report and pay back the expenses. While Masuzoe apologized over the scandal and vowed to continue his work as governor, it is no surprise that his actions have raised questions as to whether he mixes his public duties and private activities.

Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine reported on Masuzoe's use of political funds on resort stays and private dining. The articles said his fund management group paid about 230,000 yen and 130,000 yen to a hotel in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, as "conference fees" in January 2013, when Masuzoe was a House of Councillors member, and in January 2014 after he resigned from that position, respectively. The organization then recorded payments on both occasions in a political funding report. According to Bunshun's reporting, however, meetings were never held and it was actually Masuzoe's family trips.

Masuzoe explained at the news conference that he booked rooms at the resort for family vacations for both times in 2013 and 2014, but treated the spending as expenditures for political activities since he held meetings with people from his office over the 2013 upper house race and the 2014 Tokyo gubernatorial election in the same room. He said he would correct the report and pay back what was included in the report, but questions still remain as to why he thought it was appropriate to report expenditures including spending on family trips as political activities.

Asked how many people participated in the meetings at the resort, Masuzoe refused to give an answer, saying that it was "a sensitive political matter." His response not to provide even the number of meeting participants let alone the names of individuals is impossible to understand.

Masuzoe assumed office in February 2014 after former Gov. Naoki Inose resigned over a money scandal concerning a shady donation of 50 million yen.

When former economy minister Yuko Obuchi resigned over a money scandal, Masuzoe criticized her, saying, "She bears grave responsibility as a Cabinet minister (for the scandal) if she cannot explain it." He added that regulations over the use of political funds have become stricter.

Despite his earlier criticism of Obuchi, Masuzoe himself is accused of sloppy management of his political funds. Technically speaking, Masuzoe's political funds during his term in the House of Councillors included party subsidies that come from taxpayers' money.

The latest allegation over the misuse of political funds comes as another blow to Masuzoe who has been under fire as governor for repeatedly using his official vehicle to travel between his office in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and his private office-cum-vacation home in the hot spring resort town of Yugawara in Kanagawa Prefecture. He has been also criticized for his expensive business trips overseas. Masuzoe must take harsh criticism against him seriously that what is being called into question is his sense of drawing a line between his public duties and private affairs, and also how he uses public money.

The metropolitan government faces a range of issues that need to be addressed, from the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics to a rapidly-aging society and day care shortages, and there is no time to lose in advancing policies.

Masuzoe vowed to take the criticism to heart and continue with his work. But if he wants to dispel the allegations against him, he should first present details about meetings that allegedly took place at the resort hotel.

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