Trade and industry minister Yuko Obuchi resigned Monday morning over her alleged misuse of political funds.
Obuchi officially announced the decision at a press conference at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry after meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who accepted her resignation.
Obuchi said she wanted to avoid delaying the economic and energy policies she was in charge of.
“By resigning, I want to focus all my efforts on thoroughly investigating the questions raised so that I will be able to explain (what actually happened),” she said. “I apologize, as a member of the Abe Cabinet, for failing to make any contribution to reviving the economy, or bringing about a society in which women shine, and many other issues.”
However, Obuchi said she would not resign as a lawmaker and said she had a responsibility to investigate the allegations leveled against her.
Abe decided to appoint internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi as acting METI chief until he can name Obuchi’s official successor, sources close to the prime minister said.
Abe on Monday also accepted the resignation of Justice Minister Midori Matsushima after she offered to quit over alleged violations of the election campaign law amid growing calls in the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that both ministers should resign at the same time.
The resignations will deal a severe blow to Abe, who appointed five women as new Cabinet ministers when he reshuffled his Cabinet on Sept. 3 in his bid to underline his aim of promoting the status of women in Japan.
Abe hopes to put the political scandals involving the two ministers behind him as soon as possible to minimize the negative impact on the administration’s power, but the opposition parties are expected to hold him responsible for their appointments.
Abe has already started searching for a candidate to fill Obuchi’s post. In the running are lawmakers who served as Cabinet ministers in the past, and who therefore have less chance of being caught up in any political scandal, sources said.
Abe told reporters in the afternoon that both Obuchi and Matsushima had said they could not let the allegations against them impede government business. He said he had decided to respect their wishes.
“I bear responsibility for having appointed them. I deeply apologize,” Abe said.
Matsushima allegedly distributed custom-made “uchiwa” (handheld fans) bearing her image to people attending a summer festivals in the Tokyo No. 14 district, which she represents.
Giving voters goods, even such apparently insubstantial gratuities, is prohibited by law.