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Tokuda submits Diet resignation over election scandal

Kyodo

Lower House member Takeshi Tokuda, whose elder sister is on trial on suspicion of illegally helping his election campaign in 2012 by providing cash to employees of Tokushukai, Japan’s largest hospital chain, resigned from the Diet on Monday.

Tokuda, 42, would have to give up his Lower House seat anyway under the so-called guilt-by-association rules of the Public Offices Election Law if his sister, Michiyo Stern, who played a key role in his election campaign, receives a prison sentence, suspended or otherwise. Her ruling is set to be handed down on March 5.

Tokuda hopes to get leniency by resigning before Stern is sentenced, a senior member of the Liberal Democratic Party said. If his resignation is accepted, a Lower House by-election will be held on April 27 in the No. 2 single-seat constituency of Kagoshima Prefecture.

“It’s not good for national politics if I stay in my post when my family members have pleaded guilty,” Tokuda said at a news conference. “I apologize to voters, the Liberal Democratic Party and Tokushukai for causing them trouble. I have to take responsibility.”

Stern, one of Tokuda’s elder sisters, stands accused of breaking the election law by allegedly providing ¥155.6 million in cash or airline tickets to 594 employees of the Tokushukai hospital group, which their father, Torao, founded, for the purpose of recruiting them for Tokuda’s campaign.

Because Stern pleaded guilty at the start of her trial on Jan. 31, she will probably receive a prison term.

Stern is one of the 10 people who were charged with violating the election law over Tokuda’s campaign. The nine others include Tokuda’s mother, Hideko, and another elder sister, Narumi Koshizawa, who pleaded guilty on Feb. 13. The Tokushukai money scandal also spread to former Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, who drew harsh criticism for accepting ¥50 million from the group before running in the December 2012 gubernatorial election, leading him to step down last December.

Takeshi Tokuda was first elected as an independent lawmaker in 2005 and joined the LDP the following year.

The third-term Lower House member was appointed as parliamentary secretary in charge of infrastructure and transport as well as reconstruction from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet was launched in December 2012.

But he quit the post last February after a scandal erupted over his relationship with a woman, and left the LDP in November following the arrest of family members, including Stern, over the alleged campaign illegalities.