LDP money used to secure votes in 1968 poll in U.S.-ruled Okinawa

© Kyodo News

Over $700,000 of ruling Liberal Democratic Party money was funneled to the campaign of a conservative pro-U.S. candidate and distributed to municipal leaders to help secure votes in the first public election of the head of the Ryukyu government in Okinawa in 1968 while it was still under U.S. rule, according to a former campaign official.

Previously declassified diplomatic documents have shown the United States, concerned that a rival candidate who called for an immediate reversion of Okinawa to Japan without precondition would win the contest, had urged the LDP to help a conservative party in Okinawa financially.

The former campaign official's accounts show for the first time that the LDP money was provided via U.S. banks in several batches and given to municipal leaders in the hope of securing votes for Junji Nishime, the pro-Washington candidate.

The former senior campaign official, Takeshi Miyagi, 88, said he decided to provide his accounts as this year marks 50 years since Okinawa's reversion to Japanese rule in 1972. "I thought I can tell what I know," he said.

An official U.S. document showed the LDP promised in August 1968 to provide $720,000 to Nishime's campaign. The money, which was valued at 259.2 million yen at the time, was received by Eishin Yoshimoto, who was then vice president of the Okinawa Liberal Democratic Party.

Miyagi, who headed the conservative party's secretariat, said the yen-denominated funds needed to be converted into dollars as the U.S. currency was used in Okinawa at the time.

"About $700,000 came in, in around two to three batches," he said. "We used two U.S. banks in Okinawa. I remember that because there was such a huge amount of money."

Campaign funds, which included donations from the local business community and a U.S. chamber of commerce and industry, were provided to the municipal leaders Yoshimoto called in, Miyagi said.

"As he listened to them explain their local situations, he grabbed wads of dollar bills in a rule of thumb and handed them in manila envelopes," he said.

Despite the infusion of the campaign money, Nishime lost the election in November 1968. Chobyo Yara, who was backed by a teachers association, became the first elected head of the government of the Ryukyu Islands.

Seiho Matsuoka, the conservative chief executive of the Ryukyu government before Yara took over, noticed that $130,000 had disappeared from the bank account used to park the campaign money. Yoshimoto claimed to have handed it to a group affiliated with Nishime, but that could not be verified, Miyagi said.

As the local party was unable to report to an LDP probe how the funds had been used, the LDP "lost confidence in the Okinawa Liberal Democratic Party," the former campaign official said.