Former Japanese Minister reverses position, confesses to accepting kickbacks from Abe group

Former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Junji Suzuki stunned reporters in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district on Friday with an admission of kickbacks his secretary received from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction. As the scandal continues, other lawmakers within the faction have also confessed to receiving similar funds, while some remain silent. Experts are urging those involved to come forward and explain their actions.

In a surprising turn of events, Junji Suzuki, a former internal affairs minister and member of the Abe faction, confessed to reporters that his secretary had received ¥600,000 in cash as kickbacks from the faction. The 65-year-old House of Representatives member from Aichi Constituency No. 7 admitted that each time a kickback was received, it was reported to him and stored in his office. However, Suzuki had not included these kickback amounts in his political funds reports and plans to rectify this in the future.

Suzuki, who previously denied the kickback allegations, blamed the “part and parcel” of politics, claiming that he was unaware that he had received off-the-books cash. He admitted that he made inaccurate comments at press conferences and that receiving kickbacks were a common practice in the political world. This shocking confession comes after submitting his resignation on Thursday, adding an unexpected twist to the unfolding scandal.

The former internal affairs minister revealed that the faction had set sales quotas for party tickets, requiring him to achieve annual sales targets ranging from ¥1.1 million to ¥2.1 million. Despite failing to achieve some of these targets, he received kickbacks totaling ¥300,000 in 2020 and ¥220,000 in 2021, representing the sales quota excess. Suzuki also covered some shortfalls out of his own pocket but emphasized that he did not recognize the off-the-books cash as kickbacks at the time.

Another member of the Abe faction, former State Minister of Defense Hiroyuki Miyazawa, became the first to admit that the faction systematically created hidden funds. Miyazawa revealed that he received over ¥1 million in kickbacks from the faction and was instructed not to include these amounts in his political funds reports. He claimed that this practice went on for many years, and he assumed it did not violate the law. However, when asked who had given these instructions, Miyazawa said he had no idea.

Former Cabinet Office state minister Manabu Horii, elected from the Hokkaido proportional representation constituency, admitted that he sold between 270 to 300 party tickets a year and suspects there may have been kickbacks. He apologized for causing significant public distrust in politics and expressed uncertainty due to his secretary, who was in charge of ticket sales, quitting. This lack of transparency and accountability has sparked criticism from experts, with Kazuhisa Kawakami, a professor of political psychology at Reitaku University, condemning the lawmakers for failing to fulfill their obligations to explain the issue. He emphasized the need for thorough investigations and sufficient explanations to restore public trust in politics.

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