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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Cabinet member exits after tryst
Konoike lived it up with lover in Atami: weekly
By MASAMI ITO
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshitada Konoike resigned Wednesday for "personal reasons" after a magazine hit newsstands with a full account of a trip he and a lover took to a hot-spring resort, during which he used a special JR pass that lets Diet members ride shinkansen for free.
Shukan Shincho, which went on sale Wednesday, exposed the three-day rendezvous between the married Konoike and a woman at the Atami resort in Shizuoka Prefecture, where they played golf and dined in high style from April 28 to 30. That was around the time the government started scrambling to deal with swine flu concerns.
The magazine said he used a free JR pass for Diet members that is supposed to be used only for official duties.
The article quotes the 68-year-old Konoike as admitting to both having an affair with the woman and to using the train pass for the trip.
He was not available for direct comment Wednesday. He entered a hospital Tuesday night after submitting his resignation.
His boss, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, announced Wednesday morning that Konoike quit over health issues. His replacement is Katsuhito Asano, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Upper House caucus.
"It is true that Konoike has been expressing worry over his health," Kawamura explained. "But he also apologized over the magazine article, saying it was due to his lack of virtue, and it is my understanding that the article was a part" of the reason why he stepped down.
In the article, Konoike is quoted as admitting to loving both women and alcohol, even going so far as to brag that he has dated 10 women at the same time in the past. He blamed it on his genes.
"It is in my DNA from my grandfather," Konoike was quoted as saying. "My father was the same, drank heavily and ran after women — that DNA is in me, too."
DNA or not, it is true this was not the first time Konoike had been busted by the magazine over an indiscretion. In January, Shukan Shincho reported he let a married woman stay overnight in his quarters in the Upper House members' housing facility in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
"Lawmakers and senior government officials need to have a high level of ethics," Kawamura said. "I warned Konoike about this in the past."
The scandal comes at a bad time for Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose political fortunes have recently been taking a turn for the better. Konoike is a close ally of Aso and a heavyweight in the prime minister's LDP faction.
Some of Aso's best friends have also turned out to be his worst nightmares.
In February, Shoichi Nakagawa resigned as finance minister and entered a hospital after appearing drunk at a news conference after the Group of Seven finance meeting in Rome. And the choice of Asano to replace Konoike could trigger fresh criticism because he, too, is a member of the Aso clan.