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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008

Ota discloses office expenditure

Farm minister tries to clear his name after allegations of irregular support group spending


Staff writer

Farm minister Seiichi Ota disclosed details of his political support group's expenditures Friday in an attempt to clear his name after allegations of irregularities and once again expressed his intention to remain in his post.

News photo
Nothing to hide: Farm minister Seiichi Ota shows his political group's receipts for office and miscellaneous expenses at a news conference Friday in Tokyo. KYODO PHOTO

"I am confident the expenditures were appropriately used for my political activities," Ota said in a news conference Friday morning. "I think that many people will be satisfied" by the disclosed information.

Ota has been under fire since early this week for over ¥23 million in expenditures his support group declared for office fees in just two years.

Despite the huge amount, Ota has claimed the outlays do not include rent money because the support group was registered at the home of his secretary in Meguro Ward, Tokyo.

Ota revealed the breakdown of the support group's spending for 2005 and 2006, which totaled over ¥23.4 million, and said he had receipts for about 90 percent of the total outlays to back up his claims.

"There could possibly be a mistake (in the report) due to human error, but I don't think there is any substantial act of disloyalty toward the public," Ota said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said in a news conference later Friday that he thought Ota acquitted himself thoroughly.

"There was prior speculation that the bills were fake or that rent money was being paid even though (the residence) was not being used as an office — but I don't believe that was the case," Machimura said.

According to a breakdown of the costs distributed to the press during Friday's news conference, the support group spent ¥3.04 million on office fees, including phone bills, postal service and transportation fees in 2005.

During the same year, the organization also spent ¥4.09 million on office supplies, such as printing and stationery.

In 2006, the office fees amounted to ¥2.47 million and about ¥3.78 million was spent on office supplies.

Meanwhile, Ota explained that the group paid ¥3.31 million in 2005 and ¥6.74 million in 2006 to part-time staff.

"No party subsidy whatsoever has been given to this support group. It is managed solely through donations based on goodwill," Ota said.

He admitted that the money was not spent at the group's registered address, but at his office in his electoral district in Fukuoka Prefecture and his office in the Lower House Diet members' office building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

He said he would discuss with his staff whether to move the registered address.

"I am sorry that recent reports confused many citizens and important supporters," Ota said. "I believe it was my fault and I would like to make an apology."

The outspoken Ota is known for his slips of the tongue, but he was carefully guided by his close aides Friday. Whenever he stumbled on a question, someone slipped him a note from which he read aloud.

Ota was only as agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Aug. 1.



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