Diet member Kentaro Sonoura of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has decided to resign from the House of Representatives over a political funds scandal, according to sources close to the matter.
His political organizations are alleged to have understated the income of political fund-raising parties by approximately 40 million yen.
On a voluntary basis, Sonoura responded to questioning by the special squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, reportedly saying, "If I were to be punished for alleged conspiracy with my secretaries, there is no other choice [but to resign]."
The special squad will wrap up the investigation into Sonoura, a 50-year-old fifth-term lower house member from Chiba Constituency No. 5, likely by bringing a summary indictment against him for violation of the Political Funds Control Law.
Opinion within the LDP was that Sonoura's resignation was unavoidable, given the problem over his political funds. For the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, which has had three members resign due to scandals that unfolded during the recently ended extraordinary Diet session, Sonoura's case will be a further blow to the administration.
Sonoura's fund management organization and an affiliated political association of supporters are suspected of having underreported the income.
The fund management organization entered a total of 43.62 million yen as income from six fund-raising parties held between 2018 and 2020, and the supporters group listed a total of approximately 10.06 million yen as income from three parties held between 2017 and 2019 in their income and expenditure reports on political funds.
According to the sources, the first state-paid secretary responsible for the accounts of both organizations admitted to the special squad that he had listed income from fundraising parties as less than the actual amount and reported it to Sonoura.
Sonoura admitted to the special squad that he was aware that some of the income was not entered in the reports, but he told prosecutors that he had not given instructions to understate the income.
The law makes it mandatory for a person responsible for the accounts at a political organization to submit an income and expenditure report. It stipulates that if a person responsible for the accounts fails to state the income and expenditure or makes a false entry, the person can be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to 1 million yen. If a fine is imposed, the person's right to vote and stand in elections will be suspended for five years, in principle.
The special squad likely believes that they can hold Sonoura responsible for conspiring with the secretary in charge of accounting because the lawmaker had received specific reports from the secretary in advance of the underreporting.
Since Sonoura has admitted that he was aware of the underreporting and has shown his willingness to cooperate with the investigation, the investigators are considering the possibility of bringing a summary indictment against him. For the squad to make a summary indictment, it needs to obtain Sonoura's consent. The squad will discuss the matter with higher authorities and make a final decision.
In addition, a former state-paid secretary who assisted Sonoura in formulating policies has admitted to the special squad that he was involved in the underreporting. The special squad is also considering bringing charges against both the first state-paid secretary and this former secretary.
Sonoura was first elected to the lower house in 2005 after serving as secretary to Taro Aso, then internal affairs and communications minister and presently the LDP's vice president. He served as state minister for foreign affairs in the third Cabinet of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016 and as special adviser to Abe in his third reshuffled Cabinet in 2017. He belongs to the Aso faction and is also known as a close aide to the former prime minister.
Well versed in foreign and security policies, Sonoura is secretary general of the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Economic Security, Policy Research Council, and was involved in the party's internal discussions of the three security and defense-related documents, which were approved by the Cabinet on Friday.
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