Opposition leaves Diet floor in boycott of Amari speech


Staff Writer

Pressure mounted on embattled economy minister Akira Amari on Friday over allegations that he took cash for favors, as opposition lawmakers mounted a humiliating boycott of his annual policy speech in the Diet.

When Amari took the podium to unveil the year’s economic program, lawmakers from the Democratic Party of Japan, Social Democratic Party, Japan Communist Party and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) stood up and walked out.

The allegations against Amari are potentially damaging to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, in which Amari is a central pillar. He is also known worldwide as Japan’s hard-nosed negotiator in the to and fro over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The gesture reflected opposition parties’ growing frustration with Amari’s failure to explain away allegations detailed Thursday by weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun that he and two of his secretaries received millions of yen in undeclared donations and dining expenses, in what could amount to a violation of political funding laws.

During a news conference earlier Friday in Tokyo, Amari insisted that he did “nothing illegal.”

But he stopped short of answering the allegations, saying there are discrepancies between what the magazine has alleged and how he recalls the events involved.

“I want to make sure my comments on the matter are consistent throughout. So until we’re done investigating facts, I don’t think I should comment,” Amari said.

However, he made his clearest commitment yet to address the allegations, saying he would provide a fuller explanation “in a week.”

Shukan Bunshun alleged that Amari accepted a total of ¥1 million in cash on two occasions from a construction company, and that he received the money in person.

Amari told reporters Friday that as a general rule he does not receive donations directly from supporters in his office.

The weekly further alleged that, in all, Amari and his secretaries received donations and dining worth at least ¥12 million from the company, based in Chiba Prefecture, over the past three years.

It said they rewarded the company by intervening to help it settle a dispute with public housing corporation Urban Renaissance Agency — commonly known as UR — over a redevelopment project.

Aside from a possible violation of the Political Funds Control Law, accepting the money could have violated a separate law prohibiting Diet members and their political secretaries from exerting influence over public contracts or influencing another individual’s administrative decisions, the magazine said.

If the allegations are true, observers say Amari may find himself under pressure to resign. This would be damaging to Abe’s administration at a time when it is gearing up for an Upper House election this summer.