Japan Leader Grilled Over Scandal 12/08 06:06
TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and several key Cabinet
ministers were grilled by opposition lawmakers in parliament on Friday over a
widening fundraising scandal and an alleged connection to the Unification
Church which threaten to further drag down the government's sagging popularity.
Support ratings for Kishida's government have fallen below 30% because of
public dissatisfaction over its slow response to rising prices and lagging
salaries, and the scandal could weaken his grip on power within the governing
Liberal Democratic Party. Still, the long-ruling party remains the voter
favorite in media polls because of the fragmented and weak opposition.
Dozens of governing party lawmakers, including Cabinet members, are accused
of failing to fully report money they received from fundraising. Kishida has
acknowledged that authorities are investigating the scandal following a
The party's largest and most powerful faction, linked to late former Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe, is suspected of failing to report more than 100 million
yen ($690,000) in funds in a possible violation of campaign and election laws,
according to media reports. The money is alleged to have gone into unmonitored
Kishida has instructed party members to temporarily halt fundraising
parties. "It's a first step," he said Friday. "We will thoroughly grasp the
problems and the cause and will take steps to regain public trust."
Kishida also said he will step down as head of his own party faction while
serving as prime minister to show his determination to tackle the problems.
Kishida was bombarded with questions from senior opposition lawmakers about
the scandals during Friday's parliamentary hearing.
He separately faces allegations related to a 2019 meeting with former U.S.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who visited him with top officials from the
Unification Church, a South Korea-based religious group that the government is
seeking to dissolve over abusive recruiting and fundraising tactics that
surfaced during an investigation of Abe's assassination last year.
The investigation also led to revelations of years of cozy ties between the
governing party and the Unification Church.
Kishida said he was asked to meet with Gingrich as a former foreign minister
and that he did not remember the other guests. Photographs in Japanese media
show him exchanging business cards with Unification Church officials.
"I don't see any problem with that," Kishida said. "If there were
church-related people in the group, that does not mean I had ties with the
Yukio Edano, a lawmaker for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic
Party of Japan, accused Kishida of lax oversight and of attempting to distance
himself from the fundraising scandal by withdrawing from leadership of his
Media reports say Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno allegedly
diverted more than 10 million yen ($69,000) over the past five years from money
he raised from party events to a slush fund. Matsuno was a top official in the
Abe faction from 2019 to 2021 and is the first key minister implicated in the
scandal by name.
Matsuno brushed off repeated questions from reporters and opposition
lawmakers about the allegation, saying he cannot comment now because the case
is under investigation by the authorities and his faction is reexamining its
NHK public television reported Friday that two other members of the Abe
faction also allegedly received 10 million yen ($69,000) in unreported funds.