Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering replacing Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno over alleged failure to report millions of yen received as part of fundraising efforts for his party faction, sources familiar with the matter said Saturday.
An option for Kishida to revamp his Cabinet and executives of his Liberal Democratic Party, including Matsuno, has also emerged within the administration, the sources said, with other lawmakers of the intraparty group accused of being engaged in similar scandals.
The departure of Kishida's right-hand man would deal another blow to the prime minister, who has seen his Cabinet approval ratings hit a record low after more than two years in office. If he is removed, Matsuno would be one of the few top government spokesmen forced out due to a scandal.
The departure of Kishida's right-hand man would deal another blow to the prime minister, who has seen his Cabinet approval ratings hit a record low after more than two years in office. If he is removed, Matsuno would be one of the few top government spokesmen ever forced out due to a scandal.
Matsuno, an eight-term House of Representatives lawmaker who became chief Cabinet secretary when Kishida assumed power, allegedly failed to declare in official records more than 10 million yen ($69,000) in income over the past five years.
The scandal came to light as part of an investigation by Tokyo prosecutors who are looking into a possible violation of the political funds control law involving over 100 million yen allegedly collected by the LDP's largest political faction -- to which Matsuno belongs -- through fundraising parties but not reported in political funding statements from 2018 to 2022.
LDP factions have traditionally set their lawmakers quotas for party tickets, usually priced at 20,000 yen. If they surpass their targets, the extra funds are returned to them as a type of commission.
In the LDP's biggest faction, which former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led until his assassination in July 2022, the extra funds had neither been reported as expenditure nor as payments to lawmakers.
According to the sources, the Abe faction's key members, such as Ryu Shionoya and LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda, as well as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, are also suspected to have received payments.
Matsuno served as the secretary general of the Abe faction, officially known as Seiwa policy group, between September 2019 and October 2021. He was succeeded by Nishimura and the incumbent Tsuyoshi Takagi, who is currently the LDP's chief of Diet affairs.
The prosecutors have been poised to interrogate successive secretary generals of the faction after the conclusion of the extraordinary Diet session, investigative sources said.
Takagi and Hiroshige Seko, secretary general of the party in the House of Councillors, also face similar allegations. Later Saturday, they said they have no intention of resigning from their party posts.