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Editorial: Questions remain over minister's political funding scandal

A fresh political funding scandal has surfaced within the ruling bloc. The deputy head of a nonprofit organization (NPO) purchased tickets to a political fundraising party for Yosuke Tsuruho, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, in excess of the legal limit under other people's names. Tsuruho claims that he has fully returned the money, but that move hardly settles the matter.

The deputy head of the NPO that is promoting tourism bought 2 million yen's worth of tickets for a fundraising party organized by Tsuruho's political fund management organization in 2013 under acquaintances' names. The Political Funds Control Act limits the amount of tickets that an individual can buy for a single political fundraising party to 1.5 million yen. The purchase and sale of such tickets under other people's names is also prohibited by that law. If the buyer and seller of tickets for Tsuruho's fundraising party colluded to do so, it should be regarded as a distinctly illegal practice.

Another point in the case is the deputy head of the NPO has admitted having met with Tsuruho, who as senior vice land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister oversaw the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA), at the latter's office only five days after buying the tickets.

The NPO was subsequently selected as one of the recipients of assistance from the JTA. Tsuruho has denied any influence peddling saying that "neither I nor my office mediated" between the NPO and the JTA. However, it cannot be deemed appropriate that the politician had an interested party buy tickets for his fundraising party and met the person at the ministry's office. The ministry should question officials who were present at the meeting.

It earlier surfaced that a company president who has been convicted of tax evasion had bought 1 million yen worth of tickets to a fundraising party for Tsuruho under the name of an executive of the company. Tsuruho claims that he has returned the money. However, questions remain as to whether it was a common practice for Tsuruho to have donators buy tickets for his fundraising parties under other people's names.

Tsuruho has come under fire for repeatedly defending a police officer who branded protesters at a helipad construction site at the U.S. forces' Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture as "dojin," a derogatory term for aborigines.

The minister said branding protesters as such "cannot be declared discriminatory." Tsuruho's remarks cannot be understood at all. It is only natural that opposition parties and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga are criticizing the minister over his remarks.

In October, Tsuruho commented that election results are linked to measures to revitalize the Okinawa economy. This could be interpreted as meaning that if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party wins elections, the amount of taxpayers' money allocated to Okinawa revitalization projects will increase. Tsuruho was subsequently forced to explain what he really meant by such words.

Tsuruho's political funding scandals and a series of his questionable remarks have raised questions as to whether he is qualified to serve as a Cabinet minister. Nevertheless, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says he has no intention of demanding an explanation from Tsuruho. If Suga and other top government officials were to believe that the ruling bloc can take advantage of its overwhelming majority in the legislature to tide over these problems, it should be viewed as a reflection of the Abe government's arrogance.

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