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Tokyo Gov. Masuzoe faces fresh political fund misuse allegations

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe is seen at a press conference on May 20, 2016. (Mainichi)

Allegations against Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe that he used political funds for private purposes continue to grow as it was learned recently that he purchased nearly 100,000 yen worth of confectioneries right after he assumed office in 2014.

In addition, Masuzoe purchased custom-made seals when he visited Taiwan on a business trip in 2011-2012 while he was a House of Councillors member.

The embattled governor explained alleged spending of political funds and the use of an official car for traveling between Tokyo and his vacation home in Kanagawa Prefecture during a news conference on May 13. Additional suspicious spending subsequently surfaced, however, and Masuzoe faced more questions at a regular news conference on May 20.

According to a report submitted by Masuzoe's now-defunct political funding group Global Network Kenkyu-kai, the group paid a total of 98,552 yen to a Tokyo-based confectioner known for products featuring cartoon portraits of politicians, listing the expenditure as "for souvenirs."

A source close to the matter told the Mainichi Shimbun that the payment was made to purchase boxes of brown sugar manju (sweet bean paste buns), which cost 600 yen each before tax. The package of baked goods bears a cartoon portrait of Masuzoe, with the writing, "TOKYO No. 1, MASUZOE No. 1." The product went on sale after Masuzoe assumed office in February 2014. From the amount of the payment, it can be presumed that more than 150 boxes were purchased. If these manju buns were given to eligible Tokyo voters, they could constitute gifts prohibited under the Public Offices Election Act.

In addition, when Masuzoe was serving as an upper house legislator and the leader of the minor opposition New Renaissance Party, its branch office for the proportional representation bloc paid a total of 117,100 yen on three separate occasions between 2011 and 2012 to a popular seal carving store in Taipei. The expense was listed as "office supplies."

According to a source, Masuzoe visited the shop three times when he was on a business trip and ordered two to four stone seals.

Furthermore, on Masuzoe's September 2010 business trip to Europe, a total of 109,820 yen was disbursed through the same branch for purchases in museums and luxury department stores in Belgium, and a crystal shop in Sweden.

Meanwhile, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned that of the 48 times Masuzoe used a Tokyo Metropolitan Government vehicle to travel between Tokyo and his vacation home in the town of Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, over the year starting from April 2015, he went via his private home in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward 43 times.

Under a metropolitan government ordinance, the use of official vehicles is acceptable when the person is on public duty at either the destination or departure point. The use of an official car to travel between Masuzoe's private home and vacation home may violate the ordinance.

An official from the metropolitan government says making quick detours "within the range of common sense," is acceptable. However, according to driving records the Mainichi has acquired through a freedom-of-information request, it took official vehicles an average of three hours and 40 minutes from picking up Masuzoe at his Tokyo home to dropping him off in Yugawara. Driving straight from Setagaya Ward to the resort town normally takes about 90 minutes to two hours, raising suspicion over whether he really made only "quick detours."

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