Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan’s right-hand man is suspected of misappropriation of political funds, a news report said Sunday, in a possible blow to Kan ahead of a party leadership race next month.
The Asahi Shimbun reported that political groups supporting Yoshito Sengoku, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and top government spokesman, had paid 3.2 million yen (38,000 dollars) to his eldest son’s legal firm even though the son has little to do with his father’s political activities.
The report comes ahead of a September 14 election pitting Kan against powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa for leadership of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party of Japan.
The winner of the vote will become Japan’s next prime minister, raising the possibility of the country getting its sixth premier in four years.
Ozawa — a major faction leader and veteran of backroom politics dubbed the “Shadow Shogun” — announced Thursday he planned to run against Kan, who took office only in June.
The Asahi said three political groups linked to Sengoku paid the money for what were said to be staff and other fixed costs over almost three years, citing a government report on political funds.
Ozawa, a former party leader, was seen as the architect of the DPJ’s landslide election a year ago and still commands the loyalty of many rookie members who owe their political fortunes to him.
But he has also become a liability over political funding scandals in which several of his aides have been indicted.
Former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama had said he would support Kan in the party leadership vote but changed his mind, saying last week he would support Ozawa.
Kan is expected to see Hatoyama on Sunday to discuss ways to avoid a major internal party rift — and possibly a breakup of the party — after the election, media reports said.