February 25, 2015 / 12:52 PM / in 3 years

Japan education minister may have received illegal funds: report

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s education minister possibly received illegal funds, a weekly magazine said in a report to be published on Thursday, just days after the farm minister resigned over similar allegations.

Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and Minister of Olympic and Paralympic Games of Japan, speaks during The New Context for Japan event in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

The issue could prove a new headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who last year had two ministers quit over funding scandals. It might especially sting because Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, whose ministry is also in charge of preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is considered close to Abe.

In the article reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday, the Shukan Bunshun magazine said most regional support groups for Shimomura had not been registered as political organizations and appeared to have improperly collected funds on his behalf.

The magazine also said some of the fees collected from members of the groups appeared to have been funneled to the branch of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo that Shimomura heads.

The magazine did not specify the total amount involved but said that at some annual events where Shimomura appeared, 10,000 yen ($84) was collected from each of the approximately 100 people who attended.

Japanese election law mandates that any group that supports a politician or puts up a political candidate must register as a political group. Of 10 support groups for Shimomura, only one based in Tokyo is registered as a political organization, the magazine said.

Shimomura’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment but the magazine quoted it as saying that the groups outside Tokyo were only gatherings of “individual volunteers” which invited Shimomura to parties once a year.

“They do not carry out the sort of continuous, organized political activities of the kind you are thinking,” Shimomura’s office was quoted as telling the magazine.

Farm Minister Koya Nishikawa quit on Monday amid questions over his political fundraising. Two ministers, including the trade minister, quit over similar scandals shortly after Abe reshuffled his cabinet last year.

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel

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