Japan's farm minister resigns amid political funds questions

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2015 5:03 AM
Japan's farm minister resigns amid political funds questions

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's agriculture minister stepped down Monday following questions over political funding contributions, the latest in a series of such resignations.

Koya Nishikawa resigned as head of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries saying he wanted to avoid disruptions to parliamentary proceedings.

Questions arose over an alleged 1 million yen ($8,400) donation to a ruling Liberal Democratic Party chapter headed by Nishikawa from a company run by a sugar manufacturers association that had received government subsidies.

"No matter how much I explain the situation, if people don't understand they don't understand," Nishikawa told reporters. "There is absolutely no conflict with the law, but people can still use this to tarnish my image."

Nishikawa and other government officials said earlier that he had returned the money.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that he had resisted, but in the end accepted Nishikawa's resignation.

"He was determined to quit, and I have to respect his wishes. I think it's really regrettable," Abe said. He said he was asking lawmaker Yoshimasa Hayashi, who preceded Nishikawa as farm minister before a Cabinet reshuffle in September, to resume the post.

Abe praised Nishikawa for working on agricultural reforms and Japan's efforts toward forming a pan-Pacific trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan's protection of its sugar industry is one of five sensitive areas in negotiations with the U.S. toward the trade agreement.

Political funding scandals are a chronic problem in Japanese politics and questions over Nishikawa's situation surfaced last fall. Two other ministers in the Cabinet that Abe formed in his September reshuffle quit over funding allegations. But he kept on most of the other ministers, including Nishikawa, in the Cabinet he announced following a general election in December.

Opposition questioning over such issues in the parliament tends to slow work on the body's main priority, pushing through the annual budget before the fiscal year starts on April 1.