Japanese prosecutors are widening their investigation into illegal donations to top political figures in both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, local media reported Friday.
AFP - Japanese prosecutors plan to investigate government lawmakers in a widening donations scandal after earlier targeting the opposition, media reports said Friday.
Prosecutors looking at the donations from a construction firm have said they will also probe money given to fundraising events for the trade minister, Toshihiro Nikai, the Tokyo Shimbun daily reported.
The scandal broke early this week when prosecutors arrested the right-hand man of opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), who has been seen as a likely future prime minister.
Prosecutors alleged the aide took illegal donations from the Nishimatsu Construction Company, which was seeking lucrative public works contracts, through apparent front groups.
But reports soon emerged that central figures of Prime Minister Taro Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have also taken donations linked to the construction firm, including influential former premier Yoshiro Mori.
While Mori, an LDP heavyweight, said Thursday that he would return money linked to the company, reports also said former finance minister Koji Omi has received Nishimatsu-linked donations.
Aso's special assistant Shunichi Yamaguchi and deputy infrastructure minister Tokio Kanou also said they would return two million yen (20,000 dollars) each.
Nikai, the trade minister, Friday denied any wrongdoing and said he had not heard of any plans to investigate him.
"I have never heard of anything like that," he told reporters. "I have no reason to be targeted in a special investigation."
Meanwhile, Ozawa and his opposition DPJ charged that the probe and arrest of the Ozawa aide were timed to damage his chances of unseating Aso in elections that must be held before September.
"I have never done anything considered to be a crime," Ozawa told reporters.
"Whoever it is, prosecutors or anybody who wants to discuss (this matter) with me, I will meet them any time and talk about it as much as I can."
Surveys in two leading newspapers showed at least two-thirds of DPJ party chapters are worried about the scandal's effect on the party in the election.
A senior DPJ member said he suspected political aims behind the probe targeting Ozawa, who until the scandal led in opinion polls against Aso and looked likely to end half a century of almost uninterrupted LDP rule.
"I cannot help thinking that there is a pre-arranged scenario between prosecutors and the government," said DPJ secretary general Yukio Hatoyama.
"Why have only Ozawa's offices been raided at this time before elections?"
Justice Minister Eisuke Mori immediately denied the accusation.
Prosecutors "are investigating in a strictly fair manner, on the principle of balance and non-partisanship, no matter who is subjected," he said. "There is not a single reason that we would have to face such accusations."
Date created : 2009-03-06