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Japan's justice chief steps down over donations, gangster ties

Publication Date : 24-10-2012


Japan's Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Tuesday, just three weeks after the scandal-tainted minister assumed the post in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Noda accepted Tanaka's resignation, which said the minister could not fulfill his responsibilities due to "poor health".

Later Tuesday, the prime minister appointed Tadamasa Kodaira, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, as acting justice minister.

Noda is expected to face a hard time steering Diet proceedings when an extraordinary Diet session is convened Monday, as opposition parties are likely to attack the prime minister for appointing Tanaka.

Soon after assuming the post of justice minister October 1, Tanaka was hit with revelations about donations from a foreign national and past connections with an organised crime syndicate. With the pressure mounting, Tanaka was absent from a session of the House of Councillors Audit Committee on Thursday, where his attendance was sought by the opposition.

Tanaka, 74, took responsibility for these issues by resigning. However, his resignation has been widely viewed as a de facto dismissal.

During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning, Noda said it was "very regrettable" Tanaka had to resign "because he requires continued medical treatment".

At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said he did not think Tanaka's resignation would call into question Noda's appointment of him.

"It's beyond our control if he resigns for health reasons," Fujimura said.

In a statement released the same day, Tanaka said his health would not allow him to fulfill his duty as justice minister.

"It's unbearable to think I would cause trouble to people's livelihood and not fulfill such duties as judicial administration and Diet deliberations due to my health," the statement said. "Therefore, I've made up my mind to resign. I am extremely sorry about this."

Tanaka cancelled a press conference scheduled for Tuesday, and did not show up at the Prime Minister's Office or the Justice Ministry. He was released from a Tokyo hospital Monday night, after being admitted Friday.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said the main opposition party will question Noda over selecting Tanaka.

"Why did [Noda] choose an inappropriate person as justice minister?" Ishiba said at a press conference at LDP headquarters. "[Tanaka's] resignation doesn't mean the problems are over. The Noda administration isn't capable of running the government. The prime minister should take full responsibility for the appointment."

In addition to skipping Thursday's committee meeting due to pressing "official duties," Tanaka did not attend a Diet session the following day.

Opposition parties consider Tanaka's behaviour to have violated Article 63 of the Constitution, which stipulates Cabinet members must attend Diet deliberations "when their presence is required in order to give answers or explanations". They plan to pursue Tanaka's failure to fulfill his duty as justice minister, officials said.

After Tanaka assumed the post, it was revealed a branch of the Democratic Party of Japan he headed received 540,000 yen in donations from a company run by a Taiwanese living in Japan. Some observers have pointed out these donations violate the Political Funds Control Law, which prohibits politicians from receiving contributions from foreigners.

It also came to light that Tanaka once acted as a matchmaker for the son of a senior member of an organised crime group, and also attended a party hosted by another yakuza gang leader.

Tanaka is a six-time House of Representatives lawmaker elected from Kanagawa Constituency No. 5. He once led a group of DPJ members who belonged to the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party.


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