TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's new trade minister, installed this week to replace a minister caught in a funding scandal, said on Thursday a political support group of his spent money at a racy bar, a potential new headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Yoichi Miyazawa, 64, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said he learned from a news report of the 18,230 yen ($170) that the support group spent at the sadomasochism-themed bar in his political district of Hiroshima.
"It is true such expenses were made," Miyazawa told reporters. "But I myself did not go there at all. That's true as well."
Kyodo News said the support group Miyazawa-kai had made the payment on Sept. 6, 2010, labeled "entertainment expense", according to a political finances report.
Miyazawa, a veteran politician and nephew of a former prime minister, was picked to head the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Tuesday after the sudden resignation of his predecessor, Yuko Obuchi.
Obuchi, a 40-year-old seen as a contender to be Japan's first female premier, quit less than two months after her appointment after allegations that her support groups misused political funds.
Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigned the same day over unrelated allegations of election-law irregularities.
Abe's first 2006-2007 term as premier was plagued by a string of resignations that eroded his support and it ended when he quit abruptly in the face of parliamentary deadlock and ill-health - although experts are not predicting a replay of that scenario.
"We were quite taken by surprise" by the report, an official in Miyazawa-Kai's Tokyo office told Reuters. "But on the date mentioned in the report, we have Miyazawa's schedule and he did not go" to the club.
The Kyodo report did not suggest any irregularities in the payment or the reporting of it.
(1 US dollar = 107.28 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by William Mallard and Robert Birsel)