Japan’s economy minister, Akira Amari, plans to deny allegations that he received cash for favors when he holds a press conference Thursday afternoon, sources said Wednesday.
With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making it clear Wednesday that he wants Amari to continue serving in his Cabinet for the time being, the opposition parties are expected to put the embattled minister in the hot seat during Diet deliberations.
“I would like (Amari) to continue addressing important duties such as revitalization of the economy and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Abe told a plenary session of the House of Councilors.
Abe was referring to a recently sealed free trade agreement involving Japan, the United States and 10 other Pacific Rim economies.
As well as being minister in charge of the TPP, Amari concurrently serves as minister for economic revitalization and minister of economic and fiscal policy. He is known as the driving force behind the Abenomics policy mix aimed at putting Japan on a sustainable recovery path.
With the Diet focused on Amari’s scandal, the schedule for deliberating on the state budget for a new fiscal year from April is expected to be delayed. The ruling coalition had intended to start such deliberations on Friday.
Earlier Wednesday, the secretaries-general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, agreed to send Amari to a TPP signing ceremony on Feb. 4 in New Zealand, according to a Komeito lawmaker.
The lawmaker told reporters after talks between Sadakazu Tanigaki of the LDP and Yoshihisa Inoue of Komeito that Amari plans to hold a press conference Thursday to provide an explanation about the allegations, which were detailed last Thursday by weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said at a news conference that the government finds it difficult for anyone but Amari to represent Japan at the signing ceremony and a preceding TPP ministerial meeting because he has long been involved in negotiating the deal.
Speaking at the Upper House session, Abe said he wants Amari, a key political ally, to “swiftly conduct necessary investigations and fulfill his responsibility to explain to the public.”
Amari has said he will thoroughly investigate the matter because there are discrepancies between what the magazine alleged and his recollection of events.
The magazine reported that Amari received a total of ¥1 million ($8,400) in cash from a construction company, and that his secretaries received cash and were entertained at restaurants and bars at the company’s expense over the past three years.
Opposition parties criticized Abe’s plan to retain Amari in the Cabinet and the government plan to send him to the TPP gathering.
“We don’t approve of it,” said Jun Azumi, acting Diet affairs chief of the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, referring to the minister’s trip to New Zealand.
Amari “has not explained the allegations to the public and the Diet,” Azumi said at a press conference, adding it will be hard for the DPJ and other opposition parties to consent to the move to deliberate on the state budget on Friday.
The DPJ had demanded that Amari provide an account of the allegations on Wednesday so it has a day to prepare questions to ask during budget deliberations.