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Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007
Tsunoda exits No. 2 Upper House post over funds scandal
By MASAMI ITO
Upper House Vice President Giichi Tsunoda announced his resignation from the post Friday over a political funds scandal, a big blow for the Democratic Party of Japan, which had been aiming to attack the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for its own money shenanigans.
Tsunoda said at a news conference that he was taking responsibility for allegations that his campaign headquarters received 25.2 million yen in political donations during the 2001 Upper House election that went unreported.
Tsunoda, whose DPJ membership has been on hold during his Upper House vice presidency, said he opted to quit because staying in the position "would further increase the public's distrust of politics."
His resignation is likely to be officially approved as early as Tuesday during the Upper House plenary session.
Tsunoda had repeatedly tried to fend off the allegations about the unreported donations, but admitted there was no document to prove or disprove the suspicions.
His resignation -- announced the same day Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicked off the 150-day Diet session with a policy speech -- deals a severe blow to the DPJ's plans to attack Abe over the political fund accounting problems of his Cabinet ministers.
Facing reporters Tuesday, Tsunoda denied the allegations and declared his intention to stay in office, although he later admitted he couldn't recall the fund situation at his campaign headquarters.
"The facts have not changed and I must repeat what I said (Tuesday)," Tsunoda said. "But there were indications and criticism that (I) did not fulfill my duties of accountability."
However, Kyodo News reported earlier in the day that a combined 23 individuals, firms and organizations have said they made political donations to Tsunoda's campaign office during the 2001 election.
It reported that the 23 donors made political contributions ranging from 5,000 yen to 300,000 yen and the names were listed on a secret document made by Tsunoda's former treasurer.
Acknowledging the growing calls from DPJ lawmakers for him to step down, Tsunoda said it was regrettable he had to resign. "(But) a politician must take responsibility for whatever happened, even if it happened five years ago," he said.
Tsunoda ended the news conference after 10 minutes and left without taking questions.
DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama later told reporters that despite the scandal, the opposition party will continue to pursue the issue of "money and politics" during the just-opened Diet session.