TOKYO (AFP) – Tokyo on Monday defended its under-fire industry minister as he faced fresh questions over political funding, which followed a bondage-bar scandal and criticism over an investment in the crippled Fukushima atomic plant’s operator.
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 last 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, and have dented his popularity according to a weekend poll.
On Monday, industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa – who took the job less than a week ago when his predecessor Yuko Obuchi stepped down in disgrace – admitted that his office broke funding rules by accepting 400,000 yen ($3,700) from a company majority owned by foreign investors.
“I didn’t know at all that the majority of the firm’s shareholders were foreigners,” Miyazawa told reporters.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, brushed aside the funding questions.
“I see no problem at all, as he gave back the money when he learned (about the shareholders)”, he said.
Japan’s political funding law bans donations from foreigners or foreign-controlled firms. It carries a penalty of three years in prison or up to a 500,000 yen fine.
Public broadcaster NHK said Monday that the Hiroshima-based company that gave funds to Miyazawa’s office runs pachinko parlours, a pinball-type game played around the country where winners can take their prizes offsite to exchange for cash, skirting anti-gambling laws.
In 2011, then-foreign minister Seiji Maehara stepped down for breaking the political-funding law.
The latest episode marked the third blow in less than a week for Japan’s new industry minister.
On Friday, he came under renewed pressure 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.
Harvard graduate Miyazawa – a nephew of late prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa and a cousin of Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida – was appointed last week to replace his just-hired predecessor Obuchi, who resigned over claims she misspent political funds.
Justice Minister Midori Matsushima also quit over a spending scandal in what opponents insisted was an attempt to buy votes.
An opinion poll on Sunday showed that support for Abe has slipped in the wake of the resignations, falling nine percentage points to 53 per cent in a survey conducted by the leading Yomiuri newspaper.
Abe’s victory in 2012 came after years of fragile governments that swapped prime ministers on an annual basis, a revolving door linked to plunging approval ratings due to policy failures and various scandals involving senior ministers.
Money scandals are not uncommon in Japanese politics, where rules on spending are slightly opaque, barring little except explicit bribery and vote buying.