6 June 2024

Tokyo, Japan – Three Japanese government ministers tendered their resignations on Thursday over a major corruption scandal in the ruling party, media reports said.

The scandal surrounds allegations of kickbacks of 500 million yen ($3.4 million) within the Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the world’s third-largest economy almost uninterrupted for decades.

Those resigning were Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Internal Affairs Minister Junji Suzuki and Agriculture Minister Ichiro Miyashita, the reports from Jiji Press and others said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who is also the government’s chief spokesman, was expected to follow suit later in the day along with a reported five deputy ministers.

Nishimura was quoted as telling reporters: “The public’s doubts are around me over political funds, which is leading to distrust in the government. As an investigation is going on, I thought I wanted to set things right.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said a day before that there would be personnel changes on Thursday as he promised to deal with the allegations, which are reportedly being probed by prosecutors.

“We will tackle the various issues surrounding political funds head-on… I will make efforts like a ball of fire and lead the LDP to restore the public’s trust,” he told reporters.

Kishida poll ratings are the lowest for any premier since the LDP returned to power in 2012 because of voter anger about inflation as well as his handling of a string of earlier scandals.

All those resigning are from the largest faction within the LDP, which was headed by ex-premier Shinzo Abe before his assassination last year.

The kickbacks allegedly went to party members who exceeded their ticket sales quotas for party fundraising events.

“If you are confident of selling (tickets), if you sell more than you are obliged to sell, that will all become your income, so that’s easy and great,” a senior official who used to work in the office of an LDP lawmaker told broadcaster ANN, with his face concealed and voice disguised.

After the closure of the current parliament session, prosecutors will accelerate their investigation into the allegations, with plans to interview dozens of Abe-faction lawmakers, the Yomiuri daily reported.

Another of those reportedly implicated is former Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto.

The scandal reportedly widened earlier this week to a faction within the LDP headed until recently by Kishida.

The opposition filed a no-confidence motion in his cabinet on Wednesday but it was defeated with the government’s majority.

Kishida’s poll ratings have tumbled since taking office in October 2021.

This is despite a previous cabinet reshuffle in September and a stimulus package worth 17 trillion yen ($117 billion) announced in November.

Kishida, 66, can govern until 2025 but there has been speculation that he might call a snap election ahead of a likely tough internal leadership vote in the LDP next year.

Agence France-Presse