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Saturday, April 1, 2006

Maehara quits the helm at DPJ

Hatoyama also steps down from key post over faked e-mail

Staff writer

Democratic Party of Japan leader Seiji Maehara announced Friday he would step down to take responsibility for the Horie e-mail fiasco.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama and other executives also have decided to quit, the DPJ said. Possible interim replacements being cited for the top post include Ichiro Ozawa and ex-President Naoto Kan.

DPJ lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata, who presented the bogus e-mail in a Feb. 16 House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting, told colleagues he also would leave the Diet. Later in the day, he submitted his letter of resignation to Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono.

A new interim leader will be chosen by next Friday, according to Hatoyama. Once the new chief has been chosen, new executive board members will also be picked.

During the emergency meeting of DPJ executives Friday afternoon, Maehara said he took full responsibility for the e-mail disaster.

"I believe that my resignation as leader and reshuffling (of executives) are the best course for the DPJ," Maehara said. "And it is also important to ensure that democracy, the two-party system, functions properly."

The e-mail appeared to show Livedoor founder Takafumi Horie ordering a 30 million yen fund transfer to a son of Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe.

Maehara initially had backed Nagata and the e-mail, stating publicly that the information was highly reliable.

At a news conference in the afternoon, however, Maehara said he knew the e-mail was fake Feb. 20, and began thinking of resigning then. The DPJ officially announced the e-mail was fake on Feb. 28.

Maehara said that during his one-on-one question period with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the Diet on Feb. 22, he did not talk about the e-mail, asking for an official Diet investigation in exchange for the bank account information for Takebe's son.

"I did not know at the time that the information regarding the bank account and the e-mail were provided by the same person," Maehara said.

"But I believe that everything in politics has to do with taking responsibility for the results."

As punishment for the fiasco, Nagata was suspended from the DPJ for six months. He initially said he wanted to continue as a Diet member.

After submitting his resignation from the Lower House, Nagata told reporters that he decided to step down after hearing in the morning of Maehara's intention to resign as party leader.

"I believe my decision is the right one if my resignation will put a stop to any further commotion," he said. "(My actions) have caused grave turmoil in society, and I felt that (staying in the Diet) would severely damage the public interest."

He added that if he had come to this conclusion earlier, it might have made the reshuffle of the entire DPJ leadership unnecessary.

"I'm sorry and feel responsible for postponing my decision (to quit), which led to the resignation of executive members of the party," Nagata said.

His actions are being considered by the Lower House Disciplinary Committee, which is expected to decide by Friday what punishment it will mete out.

As to who might lead the LDP's main opposition until the fall DPJ presidential election, Ichiro Ozawa, the party's former vice president, and Naoto Kan, two-time party leader, have been cited as possible candidates.

"What is extremely important is that the DPJ continues to maintain its unity," Hatoyama said. "I would like to create a situation that will make the public happy."

Maehara took over the position as chief from Katsuya Okada in September after the general election in which the DPJ suffered a severe setback to the LDP.

The term of the DPJ leader is two-years. The next chief will be the third leader within one term. The fallout from the scandal has already claimed Yoshihiko Noda, who resigned as the party's Diet affairs chief.

Nagata would've paid

Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers Hisayasu Nagata and Yoshihiko Noda were prepared to pay 10 million yen for digital data to support the allegations of shady financial links between Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie and a son of Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe, the party's internal investigative team said in a report released Friday.

Takashi Nishizawa, a magazine executive who acted as the middleman between Nagata and the as-yet unidentified source, told Nagata that someone was willing to sell the information, the report says.

Neither Nagata nor Noda, who at the time was the party's Diet affairs chief, paid the sum, after finding out Nishizawa had a questionable reputation and the information could be false, it says.

"The money was not to buy the information," Nagata told a news conference Friday evening. "It was a way to guarantee (financial) support in case (Nishizawa or the informant) lost their jobs" for passing on the information.

The DPJ probe was launched after the e-mail, which Nagata presented in a Lower House Budget Committee session in February to purport the shady link -- turned out to be fake.

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The Japan Times

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