Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara announced his resignation Sunday to take responsibility for illegally accepting donations from a foreign national, further damaging the already shaky Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
His resignation was approved at a Cabinet meeting Monday morning, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan named Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Adano to temporarily double as foreign minister.
Maehara, who assumed his post in September, is the first member of the reshuffled Cabinet to step down. He was viewed as one of the top candidates for leading the ruling Democratic Party of Japan should Kan resign. Kan revamped his Cabinet in January.
At a news conference Sunday evening, Maehara apologized for causing distrust in his handling of political funds but stressed that the donations did not influence his work as foreign minister.
“The donations had no effect whatsoever on my duties as foreign minister nor have I ever done any favors for donors in my political career,” Maehara said. “But regardless of the amount of the donations or the fact that I was unaware (of them), I must seriously accept the fact that a politician who was (appointed) foreign minister accepted donations from a foreigner.”
Maehara said he met with Kan before the press conference and was asked to stay.
Kan “asked me not to resign although I did not deserve it,” Maehara said. “But the prime minister ultimately understood after I explained that the budget for fiscal 2011 (was in the midst of deliberations) and that there shouldn’t be a diplomatic vacuum.”
With the Group of Eight foreign minister’s meeting taking place in Paris later this month, the resignation could put Japanese diplomacy on the line and hurt Japan’s reputation in the international community.
Last Friday, Maehara admitted receiving ¥50,000 in donations from a South Korean permanent resident of Japan who lives in Kyoto. But according to the Liberal Democratic Party, which brought up the issue during a Diet committee last Friday, the donations total ¥200,000 over the past four years.
Maehara said at the press conference that total donations from the person came to at least ¥250,000 over five years.
The Political Funds Control Law stipulates that it is illegal for politicians to accept contributions from non-Japanese residents and foreign companies. If found guilty, the politician could potentially face up to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to ¥500,000, and also have his or her voting rights suspended.
According to Maehara, the donor owns a Korean barbecue restaurant in the neighborhood where he moved to while in junior high school in Yamashina, Kyoto Prefecture.