TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s farm minister resigned on Monday after being accused of accepting illegal political funds, in a first blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new cabinet.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Koya Nishikawa submitted a letter of resignation to Abe, which was accepted.
“Minister Nishikawa’s intention is firm. As he said, parliamentary time, which should be used for policy deliberation, should not be wasted on his particular problems,” Abe told reporters.
Abe added he had appointed former farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to the post as Nishikawa’s replacement.
Nishikawa has admitted receiving a one million yen ($8,400) donation from a company run by a sugar manufacturers’ group months after the farm ministry decided to grant a 1.3 billion yen subsidy to the group.
The donation has been seen as particularly controversial as sugar is one of the items being hardest fought over in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal that includes the United States and Japan.
Nishikawa is also accused of taking a similar donation from a timber processing firm after it received a government subsidy. It is the first resignation of a minister from Abe’s newly-appointed cabinet, which took office in December.
Money scandals are not uncommon in Japanese politics, where the pork barrel reigns and rules on spending tend to be slightly opaque, barring little except explicit bribery and vote buying.
In Abe’s previous cabinet, in which he had appointed a record-tying five women, two female ministers resigned over allegations that they had misspent money in what opponents insisted was an attempt to buy votes.