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Ex-minister faces calls to explain 2 mil. yen received from Kake group staffer

Liberal Democratic Party Executive Acting Secretary-General Hakubun Shimomura speaks during a news conference at the party's headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on June 29, 2017. (Mainichi)

Experts are calling for former education minister Hakubun Shimomura to explain his recent admission that a senior staff member of scandal-hit Kake Educational Institution handed his office 2 million yen (approximately 17,900 U.S. dollars) on behalf of 11 firms and individuals.

In a news conference on June 29, Shimomura, executive acting secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), stated, "The chief secretary of (Kake) Educational Institution brought cash that he had collected."

The cash that Shimomura is referring to was brought to his office on two occasions -- 1 million yen in 2013 and then the same amount again in 2014 -- as payment for tickets to fundraising parties organized by a political group that supports the LDP heavyweight, while he was education minister.

Shimomura added that while the cash was indeed handed over by a Kake Educational Institution employee, it was presented on behalf of 11 firms and individuals, and that none of these purchasers bought more than 200,000 yen worth of tickets. Under the Political Funds Control Act, if a political group receives more than 200,000 yen as payment for tickets to a political fundraising party from a firm or an individual, it needs to be recorded in the relevant political funding report, together with the names of any purchasers.

In the case of the 2 million yen handed over by the chief secretary of Kake Educational Institution, there are no records of either the chief secretary or the educational institution in the political funding reports of Shimomura's support group, Hakuyukai. However, during the news conference, Shimomura emphasized that each individual party ticket purchase was less than 200,000 yen -- and hence exempt from needing to be recorded -- and therefore "legally not a problem."

Some, however, are not convinced by this explanation. Professor Tomoaki Iwai of Nihon University, who is an expert on political funding systems, surmises, "Having numerous purchasers spread out in this way was probably an attempt to conceal any names. It is possible that he tried to conceal the names because the party tickets were purchased by 'stakeholders' while he was education minister. He has a responsibility to disclose the names of those (11) firms and individuals."

Similarly, professor Hiroshi Kamiwaki of Kobe Gakuin University says, "Through his explanation (at the news conference), Shimomura recognizes that Kake Educational Institution mediated the party ticket purchases. Under the Political Funds Control Act, if the amount of party ticket purchases through mediation totals more than 200,000 yen, the name of the mediator and the total amount must be recorded in the political funding report. Therefore, it can be argued that (Shimomura's political group) failed to report something that should have been reported."

Kake Educational Institution is embroiled in allegations that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showed favoritism toward the organization, run by his close friend Kotaro Kake, with regard to its application to open a new university veterinary department in Ehime Prefecture.

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