Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, replaced two of its executives Friday following a political fundraising scandal involving the party's largest faction.

Former education minister Kisaburo Tokai became new policy chief, succeeding Koichi Hagiuda who tendered his resignation last week when Kishida replaced four Cabinet members from the powerful faction, formerly led by slain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Kishida accepted Hagiuda's resignation letter but asked him to remain in his post until the completion of a draft budget for the next fiscal year starting April.

Koichi Hagiuda (3rd from L), Tsuyoshi Takagi (far L) and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (far R) are seated at a meeting of Liberal Democractic Party executives in parliament on Dec. 11, 2023. (Kyodo)

Former Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada took over as Diet affairs chief, after Tsuyoshi Takagi quit amid allegations the faction failed to declare hundreds of millions of yen from fundraising parties in political funds reports.

Amid doubts about his ability to handle the scandal, Kishida has turned to experienced lawmakers who are not members of an LDP faction to fill the executive posts.

Tokai, who was first elected to parliament in 1986, has a history of leaving the conservative party in pursuit of political reform. He is well-versed in science and technology affairs as he worked for an architectural office for 15 years before becoming a lawmaker.

Hamada became a lawmaker in 1993. Before that, he was a secretary to his father, the late House of Representatives lawmaker Koichi Hamada, known as "Hamako," who often caused a stirred up controversy through his words and actions.

Kishida told reporters at his office later in the day, "I asked veteran lawmakers who have experience, negotiation skills and execution capabilities. It does not matter whether they are members of a faction" within the LDP.

On Dec. 14, Kishida effectively sacked four ministers belonging to the LDP's biggest faction, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who served as the top government spokesman, and trade minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

In the LDP, Hagiuda, Takagi and Hiroshige Seko, secretary general of the party in the House of Councillors, who are key members of the Abe faction, have tendered their resignations. All of them are lawmakers with ministerial experience.

The departure of members of the Abe faction from government and party posts indicates that the influence of the 99-member group, which accounts for more than a quarter of the LDP's lawmakers, will weaken, political analysts said.

Friday's personnel change came days after prosecutors searched the offices of the Abe faction and another led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, a party heavyweight who has kept his distance from the Kishida government.

The prosecutors suspect the Abe faction, called Seiwaken, or the Seiwa policy study group, returned a portion of fundraising party revenues that member lawmakers raised from ticket sales to create secret slush funds, sources close to the matter said.

The amount is believed to have totaled around 500 million yen ($3.5 million) over five years through 2022, they added.

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