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Resurfaced financial scandals plague Aso

TWO resurfacing financial scandals hit struggling Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's cabinet yesterday, a development that could further damage his party's chances in an upcoming election.

Japanese Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano received a second series of suspect donations, a newspaper reported yesterday, two days after he said he was unaware of any wrongdoing in relation to a previous report of dubious fundraising.

A former construction company executive will be prosecuted in connection with donations to a political group supporting trade minister Toshihiro Nikai, top government spokesman Takeo Kawamura told reporters.

Prosecutors had earlier dropped the case, but a judicial panel last week ordered them to re-open it. Prosecutors will not pursue the case against Nikai's secretary or a fellow lawmaker who handled accounting at his political support group.

The reports could hurt Aso's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is trailing in opinion polls ahead of an election that must be held by October.

Japan's Mainichi newspaper said that a futures trading company and other firms had made potentially illegal donations of nearly 16 million yen (US$167,000) between 1998 and 2004 to Yosano's political support group through a dummy organization.

Yosano told reporters that he was not aware of any illegality relating to yesterday's report and that he had never been asked to do anything in return for the payments.

"Our political group appropriately reports donations exactly as they are in accordance with the political funds control law," he said.

The Mainichi said the organization was separate from one that it said in a report earlier this week had donated more than 55 million yen between 1992 and 2005.

Such indirect payments are illegal in Japan, the newspaper said, adding that some donations were made in the late 1990s when Yosano was trade and industry minister, a position that put him in charge of futures trade.

Polls show the main opposition Democratic Party stands a good chance of ousting the long-ruling LDP in the elections.

The reports about cabinet ministers' funding will make it difficult for the LDP to capitalize on a money scandal involving a secretary to former Democrat leader Ichiro Ozawa in their election campaign.


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