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Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012
Tanaka's exit likely as scandal outcry grows
Justice minister enters hospital after ducking Diet summons
By MASAMI ITO
Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka's resignation was looking inevitable Friday as he faced mounting calls from both the ruling and opposition parties to step down over illegal donations and past yakuza ties.
Tanaka, 74, rushed himself to the hospital in the morning after complaining of chest pains and was unavailable for immediate comment, but he is expected to hand his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda soon. He was admitted later in the day at Tokai University Tokyo Hospital after complaining of chest pains, the hospital said.
Tanaka, who was appointed Oct. 1, has come under fire for accepting illegal donations from a company run by a Chinese national and for past connections with a major underworld syndicate in Yokohama.
The opposition was ready to pass a censure motion against him during an extraordinary Diet session, which would deliver a major blow to the Noda administration. The starting date for the extra session hasn't been set yet.
But Noda's headaches are far from over. Even if Tanaka steps down before the extra session, the opposition is ready to jump on Noda for appointing him.
"Of course, Mr. Tanaka himself is responsible (for his actions), but it is Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda who should be held responsible for appointing him in the first place without thoroughly considering whether he was suitable for the job," said Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba.
Since retaining Tanaka would make it hard for Noda to get anything done in the Diet, some in the ruling bloc are quietly calling for him to be sacked as well.
According to a Justice Ministry official, Tanaka went directly from his home to the hospital for tests Friday morning and canceled all of his appointments, including a Cabinet meeting, news conference and group interview.
The official, who was with Tanaka on Thursday evening, said he did not notice anything unusual about his health. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Tanaka called him to say he would skip Friday's Cabinet meeting due to health issues.
Fujimura, however, insisted Tanaka did not mention quitting and told the media to back off following repeated questions about Tanaka's future.
"The minister did not mention anything about his resignation. . . . I think it is natural to expect him" to return to the job after he resolves his health issues, Fujimura told reporters Friday morning.
Tanaka has admitted attending a party hosted by an underworld boss and acting as a matchmaker for another senior yakuza about 30 years ago. But when the opposition demanded he explain himself to an Upper House panel Thursday, his afternoon suddenly filled up with official business.
Article 63 of the Constitution stipulates that a Cabinet minister must appear in the Diet if requested. Outrage spread over his absence.
LDP lawmaker Junzo Yamamoto, who chairs the Upper House Audit Committee, said Thursday that Tanaka should be fired. "A minister who avoids answering to the Diet and does not fulfill his duties to explain himself to the public has no right to be a minister. He should be fired immediately," Yamamoto said, slamming Tanaka's absence.
But Fujimura backed Tanaka Friday, stressing that if a minister has official business, he or she can have the vice minister attend the committee instead.
"All heads of ministries have their official businesses and they each make their own decision (on attendance)," Fujimura said.