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Japan's ex-trade minister quizzed by lawmakers

By WANG XU in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-29 09:12
Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, in this Sept 11, 2019 file photo. [Photo/Agencies]

Former Japanese trade minister Isshu Sugawara continued to be grilled as lawmakers demanded accountability and a poll showed 48 percent of voters wanted him to quit as a member of the House of Representatives as well.

The poll was conducted by Kyodo News over the weekend.

On Friday, after being in the trade post for just little more than a month, Sugawara resigned because of scandals over "condolence money", expensive melons and other gifts allegedly offered to election supporters, making him the ninth minister to step down from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet since Abe returned to power in 2012.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of voters in the poll said it was appropriate that Sugawara resigned as minister, but 17.8 percent said he should not have.

Sugawara's resignation was triggered by a magazine report that he had paid condolence money and sent expensive melons, crabs and other gifts to his election district supporters in 2006 and 2007.

A more detailed article published on Thursday said that one of his aides attended a funeral of a supporter's family, and printed a photo of the man leaving money at a reception desk.

Despite the resignation, Sugawara faced fierce criticism from opposition lawmakers who vowed not to let him off the hook without an explanation.

"He had to step down because he cannot provide a clear explanation. Now he is even more suspect," Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said.

"It's about his alleged violation of the law. He cannot just get away with quitting the Cabinet," said Yuichiro Tamaki, the head of Japan's Democratic Party of the People.

Yu Qiang, a researcher on Japan at the University of International Relations in Beijing, said Sugawara's gift scandal had again put Abe's Cabinet appointments in doubt, as most of his ministers who had stepped down were linked to money scandals or gaffes.

"Each time Abe would say he is responsible for appointing them, but these scandals don't stop. It seems that Abe believes that his rule and his long-running administration can't be shaken by minor scandals," Yu said.

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