Photo/IllutrationRent for an office located in this building is paid by the political fund management group headed by Lower House member Hajime Funada and goes to a company for which he also serves as an executive. (Hiroshi Nakano)

At least 24 lawmakers have diverted public funds distributed to political parties to companies they are affiliated with, according to a study by The Asahi Shimbun.

The study shows that lawmakers not only receive donations from individuals and companies, but also public funds through subsidies distributed to political parties.

Between 2016 and 2018, at least 24 lawmakers have paid such funds to companies for which they serve as an executive or adviser, according to the study.

Experts said such lawmakers were obligated to explain why the payments were made to the companies as well as show that the expenditures fell within acceptable levels.

The 24 lawmakers paid a total of about 54 million yen ($495,000) to the companies they have links with. The payments went for rent on office space used by the political fund management group of the lawmaker as well as other expenses.

Lawmakers who receive remuneration from companies for serving in executive or other roles must submit annual reports listing the company names as well as their positions there.

As of April 1, 173 lawmakers were affiliated in some way with a company.

A check into the political fund management groups and political party branches headed by those lawmakers led to the 24 lawmakers whose groups and branches made payments of some kind to companies they were linked to.

Most of the payments were for rent for office space owned by the company or for leasing vehicles owned by the company.

Lower House lawmaker Hajime Funada of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and his political fund management group has an office in Tokyo close to Omotesando subway station.

Funada represents a district in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo.

The entire building where the office is located is jointly owned by Funada and a company for which he serves as an executive. Funada's group pays a monthly rent of 200,000 yen for the office.

But a recent visit to the office found a notice that said no one is based there full time. However, a member of Funada's staff said that someone uses the office a few times a week.

Between 2016 and 2018, Funada's political fund management group paid a total of 7.4 million yen to the company that owns the office.

Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University who is knowledgeable about political funds, said lawmakers were obligated to explain whether payments from their political fund management groups were appropriate especially if doubts arise about whether public funds are being funneled to companies with ties to the lawmaker.

(This article was written by Shin Kasahara and Hiroshi Nakano.)