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Kishida to Ditch Members of Abe Faction in Slush Fund Scandal

Embattled Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plans to remove four senior members of the Abe faction from Cabinet and ruling party posts over suspicions they took off-the-book funds generated from fund-raising parties, Asahi Shimbun reported.

The four are Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno; Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura; Koichi Hagiuda, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council; and Tsuyoshi Takagi, chairman of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee.

Kishida will also consider replacing Hiroshige Seko, secretary-general of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, who has also been linked to the scandal, the sources said.

The Kishida administration, while maintaining a balance among the party’s factions, has relied heavily on the Abe faction, the largest bloc that was headed by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until his murder last year and still uses his name.

Matsuno, Nishimura, Hagiuda, Takagi and Seko, who all sit on a 15-member executive board that now leads the faction, are collectively referred to as its “goninshu” (five future leaders).

Ousting all five heavyweight lawmakers from their government and party posts would deal a heavy blow to the Kishida administration.

Kishida will soon carry out a de facto reshuffle of his Cabinet and the LDP leadership, the sources said.

The prime minister had initially hoped to see what action investigative authorities would take before dealing with the issue.

But in the face of mounting public criticism, he was left with no option but to replace Matsuno and other members of the Abe faction as soon as possible, the sources said.

Kishida, who is already languishing badly in public opinion polls, could face a backlash from the Abe faction and others in the party over the planned personnel changes.

Late Dec. 9, Kishida met with LDP Vice President Taro Aso at the prime minister’s official residence to discuss the scale of personnel changes and the process to select successors, sources said.

He will hold a news conference on Dec. 13 at the end of the extraordinary Diet session to explain the future course of his administration, including his handling of the scandal.

Some in the administration suggested that Matsuno be replaced first and that other appointments be made after the Diet session closes.

Nishimura stated Dec. 10 he had no intention of resigning from his Cabinet post and reiterated that he will explain the situation regarding his political funds at the appropriate time.

“I want to fulfill my job responsibilities,” he told reporters in Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Investigators from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office are looking into suspicions that Matsuno failed to record more than 10 million yen ($69,400) he received from the Abe faction over the past five years in his political fund reports.

The money Matsuno accumulated is believed to have come from his ticket sales for the faction’s fund-raising parties in excess of quotas assigned to him, the sources said.

Suspicions also emerged that Nishimura, Takagi, Hagiuda and Seko, as well as Ryu Shionoya, a former education minister who currently heads the Abe faction’s executive board, received similar funds off the books.

Matsuno served as secretary-general of the Abe faction from September 2019 to October 2021. He was succeeded by Nishimura, and Takagi took over the post in August 2022.