Watanabe must give solid, believable account of how ¥800 million was used
What on earth did an opposition party leader use the ¥800 million he borrowed for? Providing an answer to this question is his duty as the leader of a political party.
It has come to light that Yoshiaki Yoshida, chairman of the cosmetics company DHC Corp. and a supporter of Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe, loaned the politician ¥300 million about two weeks before the 2010 House of Councillors election and another ¥500 million a month before the 2012 vote for the House of Representatives.
Yoshida said he loaned ¥800 million to Watanabe as “election funds.” But neither reports on Watanabe’s campaign finances nor income and expenditure statements for his political funds mention the loans. It is possible Watanabe will be suspected of violating the Public Offices Election Law and the Political Funds Control Law.
In a news conference Thursday, Watanabe claimed the money he borrowed was “purely intended for my personal support.”
Asked what he used the money for, Watanabe said it had been spent “for various purposes deemed necessary for a politician” and said some of the money had been used to finance conference and travel expenses. He spoke with no apparent awareness of the possible illegality of his behavior, even pointing out that he had repaid part of the loans.
It seems that Watanabe hopes to ride out the scandal by insisting that the loans were for his personal use.
Parallel with Inose case
But there are parallels between the Watanabe loans and the money scandal surrounding former Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, in that both received a huge sum of money in the immediate run-up to an election. If Watanabe argues that the money was not for use in election campaigns, then it falls to him to explain in specific terms just how he spent it.
Even if the money was strictly a personal loan, many factors remain that cannot be overlooked.
The loans from Yoshida are not included in the outstanding loans detailed in a mandatory report of his personal assets. He said it was “a clerical error” and that he “wants to correct it,” but it is unlikely the public will accept it if he shrugs off the transfer of such an enormous sum as a simple clerical mistake.
It is hard to accept that Watanabe did not prepare documents acknowledging a loan of ¥500 million.
Watanabe said he would have the chairman of the party’s ethics committee probe any potential illegality in association with the borrowed money. But it is questionable whether suspicions can be eliminated solely through an in-house investigation.
Your Party has faced criticism for some time that its management is not democratic, with the party strongly characterized as a “private shop” that defers to Watanabe for all decisions on party matters.
Kenji Eda, who broke with Your Party due to a feud with Watanabe and formed the Yui no To party, said that Watanabe managed state subsidies paid to the party and legislation expenses alone, without consulting other party executives.
By taking advantage of personal ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Watanabe has promoted a stance of serving as a “responsible opposition party” by cooperating with the Abe administration on a policy-by-policy basis. Watanabe actively promotes changes to the interpretation of the Constitution that would make it possible to exercise the right to collective self-defense, a move backed by Abe.
Whether Watanabe will be able to maintain his political leadership is a matter of concern to Abe as well.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2014)