TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s industry minister was under renewed pressure on Friday over his stake in the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant that he oversees, just a day after admitting his underlings had spent office cash at a sex bar.
Japan’s usually staid political scene has been left reeling from the S&M club scandal and the resignations of two other newly appointed cabinet ministers who quit this week in the wake of misspending accusations.
The double resignations marked the first significant blow to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he swept to power in December 2012.
Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, 64, who only took the job a few days ago when predecessor Yuko Obuchi stepped down, stood firm when faced with questions about shares he holds in Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), denying any conflict of interest and insisting he would never sell them.
The veteran politician’s new job oversees the energy sector and is the face for Tokyo’s attempts to convince a sceptical public on the safety of re-starting Japan’s nuclear reactors. They were switched off in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
“Keeping them means I’m supporting TEPCO as the minister in charge,” he told reporters on Friday.
Tokyo brushed off the issue, saying that Miyazawa had disclosed his holding of about 600 shares in the embattled company – currently worth about $1,850 – and had agreed to place them in trust during his tenure as industry minister.
Miyazawa reportedly bought the vast majority of the stock before the atomic crisis, for which the company was severely criticised.
“I don’t think there is any problem at all,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a regular press briefing on Friday.
“If someone is sworn in as a minister, the rules say he or she should refrain from share trading during their term and entrust those shares to a trust bank… Minister Miyazawa has already started” on the process, he added.