Japan lawmaker: I spent $10.1m undeclared loan on lucky charm

Japan lawmaker: I spent $10.1m undeclared loan on lucky charm

TOKYO - A leading Japanese politician insisted an undeclared US$8 million (S$10.1m) loan had been spent on personal items, including a lucky bamboo rake, as a former Tokyo governor was indicted in another cash scandal Friday.

Yoshimi Watanabe, the head of the minor opposition grouping Your Party has admitted receiving 800 million yen (US$7.8 million) from the chairman of a leading cosmetic company, but denies it had anything to do with his political work.

"I borrowed the money purely personally," Watanabe told reporters on Thursday. "I decided how to use it, and obviously I do not believe it was illegal."

Japanese law requires that all political donations be made public. Watanabe said he no longer has the money after spending it on "miscellaneous items" including a decorative "kumade" - a bamboo rake believed to confer luck on its holder.

The claim drew sneers from media and political colleagues.

"I never knew there was such an expensive kumade in this world," said Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy.

"Representative Watanabe always says politicians need to be accountable. I am sure he will offer a persuasive explanation."

But Watanabe's luck appeared Friday to be running a little low, with his benefactor, Yoshiaki Yoshida, chairman of the huge DHC cosmetic firm, telling Jiji Press he was not being truthful.

"What he has said was untrue," Yoshida told the agency. "I still have a mobile phone message from him saying he needed money for his electoral campaign."

The fresh furore is the latest in a long line cash scandals that surface every few months in Japan as one high-profile lawmaker after another gets skewered over "loans" from powerful businessmen, furthering the public impression that influence is for sale.

It comes as former Tokyo governor Naoki Inose, who stepped down from the Japanese capital's top job in December, was indicted over a 50 million yen payment he received from a hospital tycoon ahead of his election.

The novelist-turned politician did not declare the money, which he said he had received in cash, giving rise to suspicions it amounted to a bribe in an attempt to influence policy.

He was ordered Friday to pay a 500,000 yen fine, a relatively light punishment because he did not appear to have used the cash for his political campaign.

Inose was one of the faces of Tokyo's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

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