Tokyo prosecutors search offices of key ruling party faction

TOKYO (Reuters) -Tokyo prosecutors on Tuesday searched the headquarters of a powerful political faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), public broadcaster NHK reported, in connection with the biggest fundraising scandal to engulf the party in decades.

Prosecutors suspect the Abe faction, once led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, of failing report as much as 500 million yen ($3.5 million) in funds over five years, the report said.

The Tokyo prosecutors’ office declined to confirm the reports when contacted by Reuters.

The scandal has eroded public support for the LDP and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government, forcing him to replace key cabinet ministers last week as he tried to limit the fallout.

Polls conducted over the weekend by the Asahi, Yomiuri and Nikkei newspapers put his support ratings around 20%.

“The increasing public distrust over the funding issue is a very grave issue that must be handled with a sense of crisis, and I strongly feel that we must do everything in our power to win back public trust,” Kishida said to reporters on Monday.

He touched on the possibility of legal reform to regain the public’s confidence but gave no details, saying he would wait for the investigation to unfold.

($1 = 142.5400 yen)

(Reporting by Tokyo Newsroom; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Edmund Klamann)