Japanese Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara resigned on Friday, following accusations of election law violations just a month after taking up the key post charged with handling a trade dispute with neighboring South Korea.
TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s trade minister resigned Friday a month into his job in a scandal over condolence money, expensive melons and other gifts allegedly offered to election supporters.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quick to remove a potential damage to his Cabinet. He accepted Isshu Sugawara’s offer to resign and replaced him with Hiroshi Kajiyama, formerly the minister in charge of local revitalization and regulatory reform.
“I bear responsibility for his appointment and I apologize to the people for causing a situation like this,” Abe told reporters. But he said he had to move on because “not even a second of standstill or delay is allowed” in the important policy area.
Sugawara, 57, tendered his resignation just before he was to face questions from opposition lawmakers about the vote buying allegations later Friday, a day after more tabloid reports about his scandal came out.
Sugawara said he did not want to hold up important discussions in Parliament. The scheduled committee meeting Friday was canceled.
His resignation comes just weeks after Abe added him to the Cabinet in a reshuffling prompted by the July election, in which his ruling coalition secured a comfortable majority.
Sugawara has been grilled in Parliament recently after a magazine reported earlier that he had paid condolence money and sent expensive melons, crab and other gifts to his election district supporters in 2006-2007. Such payments are considered donations that are against Japanese elections law.
Another magazine article Thursday provided more details of alleged giveaways in his election district of Nerima in Tokyo, which apparently triggered his decision to offer his resignation.
Opposition lawmakers said they will not let him off the hook without explanation.
Japan’s Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara speaks to the media at the parliament in Tokyo, Friday.