Ex-Diet Busted member used long-expired JR Pass for free seats

NAGOYA – The arrested former Diet member, suspected of fraudulently obtaining Shinkansen tickets by claiming he was still a Diet member, showed a Japan Railway Pass that expired more than 13 years ago , according to investigative sources.

Yasuo Yamashita, 79, had repeatedly used the pass, which expired at the end of March 2009.

Yamashita told investigators he used the pass more than 10 times “because I wanted to sit in a comfortable green car seat for free,” sources said.

Police suspect Yamashita of abusing his former privilege for more than 10 years.

The pass is provided to Diet members, allowing them to ride all JR trains for free, including first-class green cars on high-speed trains.

But the pass must be returned to the lower and upper house offices upon expiration or when the holder is no longer a member of the Diet.

Yamashita was arrested on May 8 on suspicion of using the name of a sitting Diet member, showing an expired pass and obtaining a green car ticket at Tokyo Station on April 27.

Yamashita served four terms in the lower house before losing his seat in the 1996 election. He was a member of the upper house of the now defunct Democratic Party of Japan between 1998 and 2010.

CRITICISM OF PRIVILEGE

The arrest fueled criticism on social media.

“A green car ticket seems like a privilege for lawmakers,” one wrote. “It should be abolished,” commented another.

But a lower house member of the Democratic Constitutional Party of Japan in Aichi Prefecture said the benefit was necessary for work.

The legislator makes several trips between Tokyo and Aichi each week.

“Connecting my hometown and the Diet is the role of a legislator. The means of transport must be insured,” the lawmaker said.

A lower house member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said, “What Yamashita has done is pathetic.

The lawmaker showed some understanding of changing the pass to a smart card, but objected to limiting its use as it would make it difficult to travel “for an emergency meeting or wake”.

Some said the loose pass management should be blamed. According to the secretariats of both Houses of the Diet, the pass bears the name of a legislator and the expiration date printed on it.

It is issued to serving members of the Diet in April each year and is valid for one year. However, no penalty is foreseen in the event of non-return of the pass.

The Upper House’s budget for issuing the JR Pass is approximately 180 million yen ($1.4 million), while the Lower House has a budget of approximately 339 million yen.

A person linked to Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) said the system “is operated based on the belief that human nature is fundamentally good and does not expect fraud. Station staff on barely check.

A person linked to the investigation said: “Legislators are elites elected by the people. It’s hard for station staff to tell them, “This pass has expired. » »

(This article was compiled from reports by Kohei Higashitani and Yusuke Saito.)

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