Japanese lawmaker quits for underreporting political funds

A Japanese lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Wednesday resigned following allegations of underreporting political funds, marking the latest in a string of such scandals that have hammered public support for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Informed sources said that following suspicions being raised, Kentaro Sonoura, a fifth-term lower house member was questioned by prosecutors of his own volition about underreporting around 40 million yen ($302,940) raised through fundraising parties, reports Xinhua news agency.

Thereafter, the 50-year-old Sonoura submitted his letter of resignation to lower house speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda earlier in the day, following a backlash of intense pressure for him to step down following revelations of his alleged fraud coming to light, sources close to the case said.

The disgraced lawmaker in a statement apologized for his misdoing, admitting he had submitted “false” political funds reports, fostering “public distrust”.

Sonoura, one of LDP Vice President Taro Aso’s aides and a former reporter for the major Japanese newspaper the Yomiuri Shimbun, originally denied any knowledge of underreporting the funds when first asked by reporters last month, but flip-flopped on his admission later saying he had been informed by one of his secretaries during questioning by prosecutors, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Aso himself is a key factional backer of Kishida and served as prime minister for around one year until September 2009.

The latest scandal for Kishida’s government comes on the heels of three members being forced to relinquish their ministerial portfolios owing to their involvement in a series of funding and other scandals, which greatly derailed the public support rate for Kishida’s Cabinet.

Sonoura’s political fund organization said it had reported it had raised 43.62 million yen from six fundraising parties held between 2018 and 2020.

Another support group for Sonoura, meanwhile, reported that it had separately received around 10 million yen through three events it held between 2017 and 2019.

The secretary serves as treasurer for both groups.

Informed sources said that the two organising bodies are alleged to have collected vastly higher amounts of money through staging events and underreporting the real amount.

The sources also said the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office may issue a summary indictment against Sonoura, who served as a special advisor on foreign affairs and senior vice foreign minister under the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on charges of violating the political funds control law by the end of this year.

For failing to report income or expenditure, Sonoura could be facing a prison term or a fine of up to 1 million yen as stipulated by the law.

If found guilty, he will be banned from running in any election for five years.

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