Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday stood by embattled economy minister Akira Amari, but said Amari has a duty to separate fact from fiction in allegations he received cash for favors from a construction firm.
“I would like him to continue to tackle a range of important duties pertaining to economic revitalization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement,” Abe said during a plenary session of the Upper House.
“I’m confident that he will swiftly investigate the facts and fulfill his responsibility to explain himself.”
Amari has said he will address the allegations in full in a news conference on Thursday. So far, he has only said that allegations leveled at him and two associates last week do not match his memory of what happened.
Losing Amari would be hugely damaging to Abe’s administration and could carry a cost for the Liberal Democratic Party in the run-up to the Upper House election this summer.
A main engineer of Abenomics, Amari is also credited with the nation’s hard-nosed, successful negotiations on the TPP free trade deal, which Tokyo brokered with Washington and 10 other Pacific Rim economies last year.
Earlier Wednesday, the secretaries general of the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito, agreed that Amari will travel to New Zealand for a TPP signing ceremony slated for Feb. 4, a Komeito lawmaker said.
Weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun, which broke the scandal, alleged that Amari and two of his secretaries received cash and entertainment expenses from an unidentified construction company based in Chiba Prefecture.
A large chunk of the money was allegedly unrecorded in Amari’s official political funds report. If this is confirmed, analysts say it could amount to a violation of the Political Funds Control Law.
Nearly a week on, the allegations continue to linger. Amari has only said that he will not elaborate on them until he has confirmed what exactly happened.
At the same time, however, Amari has repeatedly stressed that he did “nothing illegal” as a politician.
The magazine said Amari and two of his secretaries received cash and dining from the company to the tune of at least ¥12 million — and in return helped to settle a development project dispute between it and the Urban Renaissance Agency, better known as UR.
Amari received ¥1 million in cash on two different occasions, in person and in his ministerial office, the magazine further alleged.
Information from Kyodo added