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Don’t overlook the issue of illegal donations

March 9, 2011 - 18:06 By 류근하
Japaneses Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has admitted in a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee that he received political donations from a South Korean resident living in Kyoto.

This is a problem that cannot be forgiven just because the amount of money involved was small or because he may not have received it intentionally.

The Political Funds Control Law prohibits politicians from receiving donations related to their political activities from foreign nationals, corporations and organizations. The purpose of this prohibition is to prevent intervention in Japan’s politics by foreign countries.

Especially when politicians intentionally receive such donations, they may be subject to punishments such as imprisonment, fine and suspension of civil rights ― including the right to vote or run for public office.

Maehara said he was only aware of one 50,000 yen ($607) donation. He said he would return the money and revise the relevant political funds report.

However, Shoji Nishida of the Liberal Democratic Party pointed out at the Budget Committee meeting that Maehara received at least 200,000 yen ($2,429) during the past four years.

The foreign minister should swiftly investigate the whole picture of the donations from the South Korean resident and determine whether there have been donations from other foreign nationals. The results of the investigation should be publicly announced as soon as possible.

Maehara said his association with the female South Korean resident of Kyoto began during his middle school days, but he denied he intentionally received the money. He said he learned of the donation only a day before the Budget Committee meeting.

To begin with, it is common sense for politicians that political donations from foreign nationals are illegal. Moreover, Maehara is now the top government official responsible for steering Japan’s diplomacy.

Even if he really did not know about the donations, it is problematic that his office accepted them so easily. He cannot escape his responsibility to supervise his own office staff.

Democratic Party of Japan secretary general Katsuya Okada called it “a clerical mistake,” but the problem should not be brushed off so easily and irresponsibly.

Maehara has been a sharp critic of the money and politics scandals surrounding former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa.

However, in addition to the illegal donation issue, other problems also surfaced. For example, a company that did not buy tickets to a fund-raising party was erroneously listed as having done so in Maehara’s 2009 political funds report. Also, his political organization received donations that year from a company at which an executive had been investigated by police in a tax evasion case.

We cannot help but conclude Maehara is too careless.

Can DPJ purify itself?

A chorus of demands for Maehara to resign as foreign minister has arisen from the LDP and other opposition parties. Even some members of the DPJ have said the opposition demand is appropriate.

On Saturday (March 5) night, Maehara demonstrated his determination to continue as foreign minister. The issue of his possible resignation will surely drive the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, which is already struggling with various issues, into an even more difficult situation.

In the past, DPJ member Giichi Tsunoda resigned from his post as vice president of the upper house in January 2007 over suspicion that his election office received a donation from an organization under the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon).

And in the party presidential election in autumn last year, it became a problem that the DPJ gave voting rights to party members and supporters who are foreign residents.

If Kan pushes forward with the slogan “clean DPJ,” we urge the party to demonstrate that its capacity for self-purification really works on these problems.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 7)