Japanese prosecutors on Wednesday raided the fund-raising office of ruling party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa over a widening money scandal, dealing a fresh blow to the troubled government.
The raid came weeks after authorities indicted, also over alleged funding irregularities, an aide to prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose centre-left government took power four months ago in a landslide win masterminded by Ozawa.
Tokyo prosecutors searched the offices of the fund-raising body of 67-year-old Ozawa, a veteran backroom fixer nicknamed the “Shadow Shogun” and secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
Prosecutors, who declined to comment, also searched offices linked to Tomohiro Ishikawa, a DPJ lawmaker who was in charge of accounting at Ozawa’s political fund management body, called Rikuzankai.
Another raid was launched on the offices of Kajima Corp, a company that has built a dam in the north of Japan’s Honshu island, a region where Ozawa’s electoral district is located.
Hatoyama was Ozawa’s right-hand man before taking over the party leadership last year, when Ozawa stepped down over a separate fund-raising scandal also involving Rikuzankai, while professing his innocence.
Hatoyama on Wednesday said only: “Prosecutors have made their decisions and taken action. I am not in a position to comment.”
Media reports said Tokyo prosecutors are probing whether Ishikawa handled a Rikuzankai land purchase using an unregistered 400 million yen (4.4 million dollars).
They have also asked to question Ozawa on a voluntary basis, reports said.
Ozawa told a DPJ regional gathering after the raids: “It has never crossed my mind that we would do anything that violates the law.”
Ozawa was credited with engineering the devastating poll defeat inflicted last summer on the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan with only one interruption for more than five decades.
But Ozawa’s money troubles have raised pressure on Hatoyama, who had seen his public support plunge to just above 50 percent in the latest polls.