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Thursday, May 22, 2003

YAKUZA PAID POLITICIAN'S STAFF

Matsunami claims ignorance of mob link


Staff writer

In an effort to resist growing calls for his resignation, New Conservative Party member Kenshiro Matsunami claimed Wednesday he was not aware that a man who gave him financial assistance between 1997 and 1998 was a member of an organized crime group.

News photo
Lower House member Kenshiro Matsunami leaves the Diet after having testified about financial support extended to his office by a mob-linked construction firm.

Matsunami was speaking at the House of Representatives' Council on Politics Ethics, dubbed by opposition parties "the suspects' refuge" because a number of ruling politicians implicated in scandals have used the council as a forum to defend their actions.

Sessions of the council are usually closed to the media, but at Matsunami's request, Wednesday's session was opened to TV cameras and aired live by two satellite broadcasting channels.

Reading from a prepared text, Matsunami admitted receiving a total of 2.5 million yen from an Osaka-based construction company run by the yakuza member as salaries for his two secretaries between March 1997 and January 1998.

He also admitted that he continued to receive the money even after an acquaintance told him in December 1997 that the man was a member of a yakuza group.

Matsunami claimed that he did not have any means of confirming that the man belonged to the underworld gang at that time. He also said that although he once asked the man to stop providing the funds, he refused to do so.

"I'm only ashamed of my laxity and indecisiveness," said a grim-faced Matsunami.

According to Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Kenji Kodama, who also addressed the Diet session, the donor is Fujio Yamaguchi, who was arrested in March 1998 for his alleged role in rigging bids for public housing construction in Osaka.

Only four days before he was arrested, Matsunami met Yamaguchi, who was on a police wanted list at the time, in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, and was asked to make a phone call to police, Matsunami admitted.

Matsunami called Osaka Prefectural Police, as requested, and inquired into the police investigation into Yamaguchi.

Opposition lawmakers said making such a request for information is tantamount to interfering in the investigation. Matsunami, however, claimed that he was not aware the man was being hunted by police at the time.

"I just asked the police what was happening because (Yamaguchi) came to see me," Matsunami said.

The salaries of politicians' secretaries that are paid by a third party must be reported in an official political fund report as donations, but Matsunami did not do so until the scandal was exposed by a newspaper last month.

Unlike sworn witnesses appearing before a normal Diet session, a lawmaker cannot be accused of perjury at the Council on Political Ethics.



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