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Thursday, Dec. 28, 2006
Reform minister Sata exits over fund snafu
Departure to deal further blow to Abe
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's three-month-old Cabinet suffered another setback Wednesday as administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata resigned after admitting accounting irregularities by one of his political support organizations.
Abe has seen two top appointees step down in two weeks. First the head of his tax commission quit amid a row over his use of a government-owned condominium. Now Sata, a Lower House member from Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, has exited as well.
Abe told reporters that Sata's resignation was unavoidable and he will try to find a replacement before year's end.
"As the one who appointed Sata as minister, I feel responsible" for the scandal, Abe said.
Fumbling through his prepared speech at a news conference, Sata denied media reports that a political support group submitted falsified funding reports, including fictitious expenditures.
But after an internal investigation, Sata admitted a group had engaged in improper accounting by including expenditures by another group on its own books.
"I believe illegalities" were committed, Sata said.
He stressed that all of the money was indeed used for political activities, and that he was resigning only because of the accounting problems.
In an attempt to clarify the "illegal" accounting, Sata said some of the costs, including that covering heating and lighting paid for by his support group in Gunma Prefecture, was added to the expenditures of another of his political organizations in Tokyo.
"A lot" of money was transferred, Sata said, claiming he was unsure of the exact amount. He ended the news conference after 11 minutes.
In a written statement, Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, called Sata's resignation "a matter of course," but added: "The whole picture is still unclear and I cannot say Sata fulfilled his responsibility. This resignation is nothing but an attempt to sweep the problem under the rug."
Sata's resignation comes on the heels last week's exit of Tax Commission Chairman Masaaki Honma, who was forced to step down after a magazine reported that he was living with a woman other than his wife in a government-owned condominium unit in Tokyo.
Hatoyama said the recent scandals, including the use of government "plants" at town hall meetings to speak in favor of government policies, point to a larger problem.
"Prime Minister Abe has exposed his incompetence and lack of leadership, and is increasing public distrust in politics day by day," he said.
Recent media reports have alleged that Sata's support group claimed an estimated 78 million yen in maintenance expenses from 1990 to 2000 for a nonexistent office.
The support group was created in 1990 by partners of a Gunma Prefecture-based construction firm run by Sata's father. It was disbanded last month.