EDITORIAL: Amari long overdue to explain himself in cash scandal
The special investigation department of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has opened a compulsory investigation into the scandal over cash received by Akira Amari, former minister in charge of economic revitalization, and by one of his former aides.
A politician or an aide receiving profits in exchange for favors would violate the Law on Punishment of Public Officials’ Profiting by Exerting Influence.
The nature of the 6 million yen ($55,600), which Amari and his former aide received from a construction company based in Chiba Prefecture, remains unclear.
Amari said he believes the money represented political donations with no reciprocal nature. But a man in charge of general affairs at the construction company has said the money was intended as remuneration for the intervention of the former aide and others in the company’s compensation talks with the semipublic Urban Renaissance Agency (UR). The company later received compensation payments from the UR.
While the arguments on both sides remain far apart, it would be inexcusable for a politician or aide to receive money and exert influence on government offices or other entities at the request of the donor.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office should do its best to uncover the entire picture of what took place.
It should not be forgotten that Amari himself has yet to fulfill his accountability. A lawmaker, who represents the people, has the responsibility to explain himself to the public whenever he comes under suspicion without waiting for investigators to uncover the case.
When he announced his resignation from the Cabinet at a news conference in late January, Amari did promise to “continue to have the case investigated by a lawyer and publish the results at appropriate timing.”
Some other politicians who came under suspicion over fund-raising irregularities in the past defended themselves by saying, for example, that they had no way to determine the facts because documents had been seized by authorities.
But Amari had two-and-a-half months to look into the case after his resignation. He should be able to publish findings, even an interim report, from the investigation.
Much remains unknown about the entire scandal, including whether Amari himself was involved in the case.
Amari said during the news conference in January that he had learned only recently that his former aide had been talking to the UR. But UR officials later said they had been told by the former aide that Amari was aware of the talks.
Opposition parties want Amari summoned to the Lower House Budget Committee as an unsworn witness to dig out the truth. But the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has refused.
Amari has been absent from Diet sessions, citing health problems. He may be unable to come forward on his own to explain himself, but he could still have lawyers, for example, speak on his behalf.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also bears heavy responsibility.
Abe, who appointed Amari to key Cabinet positions, has admitted to his own responsibility for having appointed him.
If that is the case, the prime minister should urge Amari to explain himself. In addition, Abe, who is also the LDP president, should instruct the party to have Amari fulfill his accountability in some form or other.