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Japanese politicians plundered bottomless state fund

Senior Japan­ese politi­cians used a secret bot­tom­less state fund to bribe oppo­nents and help fund their elec­tion cam­paigns, it has been dis­closed.

by Julian Ryall

For­mer offi­cials have come for­ward to describe a huge safe in the chief cab­i­net sec­re­tary’s office stacked with tens of mil­lions of yen that they were able to hand out with­out pro­vid­ing receipts.

The fund was report­ed to con­tain Y1 bil­lion (£6.7 mil­lion) but that fig­ure has nev­er been test­ed as no mat­ter how much they gave to politi­cians the safe would always be replen­ished the next day.

It was offi­cial­ly used for “infor­ma­tion-gath­er­ing,” but the bureau­crats said most of the mon­ey was spent to grease pro­ceed­ings in par­lia­ment, to pay for gifts for politi­cians ahead of cru­cial votes and to cov­er expens­es on over­seas trips.

A politi­cian fight­ing a close elec­tion cam­paign would be able to take sev­er­al tens of mil­lions of yen from the fund, they told the Asahi news­pa­per.

Dis­clo­sures about the appar­ent­ly bot­tom­less slush fund posed a chal­lenge to the prime min­is­ter, Yuiko Hatoya­ma, who vowed that fight­ing waste­ful spend­ing and cor­rup­tion in pol­i­tics would be two of his main aims before he was elect­ed in August.

The rev­e­la­tions also coin­cid­ed with a report last week by the Board of Audit that gov­ern­ment offices and pub­licly fund­ed cor­po­ra­tions in 2008 improp­er­ly spent a record Y236 bil­lion (£1.6 bil­lion) in tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey through account­ing sleight-of-hand, while a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee con­vened for the first time on Wednes­day to cut funds to pub­lic pro­grammes it deems unnec­es­sary.

Japan’s nation­al debt stands at 170 per cent of GDP and mea­sures are urgent­ly required to bring that fig­ure down, but there is anger that while the pub­lic is being forced to go with­out, it appears that the same rules are not being applied to politi­cians.

Pre­vi­ous Lib­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Japan gov­ern­ments con­sis­tent­ly declined to reveal how the fund was used, prompt­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Japan to sub­mit a bill in 2001 demand­ing trans­paren­cy in the way the cash is han­dled.

In Novem­ber, how­ev­er, the new chief cab­i­net sec­re­tary in the DPJ admin­is­tra­tion, Hiro­fu­mi Hira­no, announced that the gov­ern­ment had changed its posi­tion on the issue and would keep the real scale of the fund and how it is spent a secret.

Mr Hatoya­ma has been forced to answer ques­tions in the house about dona­tions totalling Y21.8 mil­lion (£145,800) that were false­ly report­ed in his annu­al polit­i­cal fund­ing dec­la­ra­tion, as well as his fail­ure to declare Y72 mil­lion in income from the sale of stocks in 2008.

The prime min­is­ter admit­ted his account­ing had been “care­less” and blamed the over­sight on his wealthy back­ground.


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