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.