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Saturday, Jan. 13, 2007

Education minister's 'expenses' in question

Staff writer

A political group headed by education minister Bunmei Ibuki logged a combined 8.75 million yen in "office expenses" in 2004 and 2005, a period the group's political funds report indicates it had little or no activity and had a rent-free office, it was learned Friday.

According to the official funds reports for the two years, Kozo Kaikau Kenkyu Kai (Structural Reform Study Group) did not spend any money on utilities or personnel, indicating it was not operating and did not employ anyone.

The 8.75 million yen was listed under office expenses, which is for office maintenance. On the same report, the group has entered its main office space as rent-free.

It was reported earlier this week that Ibuki's main fund management body spent some of the money entered in its official funds report as office expenses on food and drinks.

Money spent on food and drinks should be declared under political activity expenses and requires details, including receipts, be attached to the report, while entries under office expenses do not require any details.

Hisao Toi, a secretary to Ibuki, claimed that all of the group's expenses were reported properly and in close consultation with the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and its predecessor body over the past 20 years.

The group is a cross-factional policy study group, not a group for Ibuki's political activities, Toi said.

The group, now dormant, once had more than 70 members. Money declared as the "office expenses" include costs for such events as wedding and funeral ceremonies involving the group members, Toi said.

"You won't ask for receipts for (expenses) for wedding and funeral ceremonies, will you?" asked Ito, saying the group has not kept receipts for those expenses.

Ibuki's main fund management body declared 41.46 million yen in office expenses in its 2005 funds report, while listing its office space as rent free, just as the study group had done, it was reported this week.

Toi claimed the amount is high because it includes rent for another office in Tokyo and one in Kyoto, which totals about 17 million yen annually.

"The office in Kyoto is located in a very good place, right in the middle of Kyoto. We have seven cars, and expenses for parking alone cost around 2.8 million yen a year," said Toi, claiming those expenses pushed up the office maintenance costs to 41.46 million yen.

"Ibuki hasn't done anything inappropriate," Toi said, adding the minister will reveal more expense details in the near future.

Office expenses are included under operating expenses in the official funds report of a registered political group.

The fact that no receipts or detailed breakdowns are required for operating expenses is often criticized as a major loophole in the Political Funds Control Law.

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The Japan Times

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