Japanese Cabinet hit by fresh political funding scandal

Thursday, September 6, 2007

TOKYO -- Japan’s new environment minister admitted on Wednesday to mistakes in past political fund reports, dealing yet another blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been plagued by a slew of scandals in his cabinet.

Both the farm minister and a junior minister resigned on Monday, just over a week after Abe reshuffled his cabinet in a bid to revive his popularity following a crushing defeat for his ruling coalition in July’s upper house election.

Four ministers have quit since Abe took office last September, mostly for irregularities in political fund reports, while another committed suicide.

In the latest problem, Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita and his political fund management group are under fire over an 8 million yen (US$69,000) discrepancy in records of loans from the lawmaker to the group declared in fund reports in the 1990s.

“There have been mistakes and omissions in the records and I want to apologise deeply to the public for the errors made by this political group,” Kamoshita told reporters.

Asked if he would resign, he said: “I want to do my best to explain in a way that will be acceptable to the public.”

He said he had been a newcomer to politics at the time the errors were made.

Abe said there had been a mistake in the records but indicated he had no plans to fire Kamoshita, Kyodo news agency reported. Abe, 52, has come under fire in the past for protecting ministers when they become embroiled in scandals.

Later on Wednesday, Kyodo said Yoko Kamikawa, the state minister in charge of gender equality, had filed corrections for errors similar to what Kamoshita made.

Kamikawa had failed to report 9.68 million yen in loans to her fund management unit in December 2000, 11.18 million yen in April 2004 and 7.98 million yen in February 2006, Kyodo said.

The string of scandals is likely to weigh on Abe’s already sagging support, which saw a slight rebound after he revamped the cabinet, and to heighten political uncertainty, which could hurt financial markets.

Stock market players have said that if another minister were forced to quit, foreign investors might turn away from the Japanese market.

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