Scandal responsibility lies with Hatoyama
Prosecutors have decided not to indict Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama over falsified reports on his political funds. However, the prime minister bears a heavy political responsibility for, in effect, allowing his former secretary to continue illegal accounting practices for years. The prime minister also deceived the public as he did his best to avoid telling the truth on the murky matter.
Prosecutors on Thursday indicted Hatoyama's former state-funded first secretary without arrest for alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law. The secretary, who was in charge of the administrative affairs of Hatoyama's political fund management organization, allegedly falsified official fund reports of Hatoyama's political fund organizations. The prosecutors also filed a summary indictment against another state-paid former secretary for policy affairs to Hatoyama, who served as the accountant for the fund organization, ordering him to pay a fine.
The prosecutors concluded the former first secretary disguised funds extended by Hatoyama and his mother as income from individuals' donations and sales of tickets for fund-raising parties. The former policy affairs secretary was charged with gross negligence for failing to notice the falsifications by leaving the accounting work up to the first secretary.
It is extremely unusual for former aides to a prime minister to be indicted while the premier is still in office. But the amount of funds falsely entered in the reports totaled about 400 million yen over five years. The scale of the deception means that laying criminal charges in this case was an easy call to make.
Prime minister standing firm
Hatoyama has deflected calls to step down over the messy affair. "It's my responsibility to fulfill my mission as a politician," he said at a press conference following the indictments.
While Hatoyama was a member of the opposition camp, however, he was quick to make comments that seem to contradict his position in this case. "The responsibility lies with a politician if his or her secretary committed a crime." "If I were the person involved, I'd take off my Diet member pin." Hatoyama took these potshots on such occasions as the arrest of a secretary to former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Koichi Kato and that of a secretary to Muneo Suzuki, a House of Representatives lawmaker.
But now the shoe is on the other foot and Hatoyama must face up squarely to the situation he finds himself in. Where once Hatoyama was calling on others to resign, now he finds himself the target of such demands.
Hatoyama insisted at the press conference that he was "totally unaware" of the massive amount of funds originating from his mother. Even if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, his explanation leaves us shaking our heads.
Even if Hatoyama did not know about the funds dispensed from his mother up until June, when disguised donations filed in the names of dead people came to light, he later had the first secretary make a report on the matter and let a lawyer look into the case. It is inconceivable that Hatoyama did not notice the about 1.2 billion yen in funds from his mother.
The revelations came out just as the lower house election was approaching. If Hatoyama hid the funds from his mother in an attempt to save his own neck and avoid any negative fallout that could impact on his party's election chances, this would be an act of betrayal against the public.
Why did the first secretary make false entries in fund reports? For what purposes were the mother's funds used? Was the provision of funds from his mother a way to dodge paying inheritance tax?
Hatoyama has provided scant explanations to these questions. The prime minister must explain in detail about the series of fund-management irregularities. Without doing so, he will never be able to regain public trust.
Hatoyama had a squeaky-clean reputation when it came to political fund management. But it now is clear that the prime minister had left his funds affairs entirely in the hands of the former first secretary and overlooked false entries of a staggering amount of money. Hatoyama cannot escape supervisory responsibility for these lapses.
"I did not, under any circumstances, line my own pockets," the prime minister stated. "Nor did I unlawfully profit."
Arguments not convincing
Some observers say Hatoyama's case is not particularly iniquitous, as the original funds were not corporate donations but rather, money provided by his mother.
However, Hatoyama's arguments are far from convincing.
The prime minister has acknowledged that the funds provided by his mother were "gifts," and has said he will pay gift tax on them. However, if the scandal had not come to light, Hatoyama would have evaded more than 600 million yen in gift tax.
If such an act was allowed to occur, it would trample upon the feelings of honest taxpayers and potentially shake the tax declaration system to its core.
Political fairness, some say, cannot be guaranteed if wealthy individuals are allowed to transfer massive amounts of money to political organizations. From this point of view, the Political Funds Control Law stipulates a limit on individual donations.
In another scandal embroiling the Democratic Party of Japan, a secretary of Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa was indicted in connection with irregularities over the receipt of political funds from general contractor Nishimatsu Construction Co. At the first hearing earlier this month, prosecutors accused Ozawa's secretary of establishing collusive ties with Nishimatsu.
In spite of this, no one within the DPJ has called on Hatoyama and Ozawa to give detailed accounts of the allegations being levied. DPJ members are unable to effectively refute criticism that there are fundamental problems both within the party and with its ability to cleanse itself.
Hatoyama's fund management organization submitted false reports on small donations from individuals. It abused a provision in the Political Funds Control Law that does not require such organizations to report the name of individual donors if the amount donated is less than 50,000 yen a year.
More transparency needed
Under the law, political organizations must retain receipts for any expenditure of more than 1 yen. But the law is not quite as strict with regard to revenues, and has relatively weak stipulations regarding the reception of funds.
We believe consideration should be given to the introduction of a system to enhance the transparency of political funds received by such organizations.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office decided not to directly question Hatoyama and his mother about the funds, but rather allow them to submit a written statement to prosecutors. But did the prosecutors find out about everything they needed to know without questioning them directly?
An ordinary citizen would certainly have to face a grilling from prosecutors if he or she was suspected of having committed a criminal act. Did prosecutors perhaps give too much consideration to the person currently standing at the helm of government?
Lately, public participation in judicial affairs has picked up pace. For example, more powers have been granted to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, in which people examine the soundness of prosecutors' decisions not to indict individuals in certain cases.
Particularly in cases that attract a great deal of public attention, prosecutors should be more willing to talk to the press and others about their decisions, rather than only revealing what they know at a trial.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 25, 2009)