Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto apologized to the public Thursday for the bribery scandal involving Finance Ministry bank inspectors and vowed to root out corruption in the bureaucracy and prevent its recurrence.”We offer our deepest apology (to the public for the affair),” Hashimoto said during an Upper House Budget Committee session. “We promise that the case will be thoroughly investigated and the government will take appropriate measures not to allow the recurrence of similar cases.”Hashimoto appeared before the committee as both prime minister and finance minister, following Hiroshi Mitsuzuka’s resignation Wednesday to take the blame for the scandal. Two bank inspectors were arrested Monday on suspicion of taking bribes worth millions of yen, in the forms of wining, dining and golf outings, from financial institutions under their jurisdiction.Hashimoto said he would prefer to select Mitsuzuka’s successor within the week. The Budget Committee started deliberations Thursday on the government-proposed fiscal 1997 supplementary budget and other bills to allow for 2 trillion yen in pump-priming income and residential tax cuts, which were approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives.Meanwhile, Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s decision-making Executive Council, emerged Thursday as a likely successor to Mitsuzuka as finance minister. Hashimoto has already spoken with Mori to see if he is ready to assume the post and a growing number of LDP executives support the idea, according to party sources.Earlier, a faction within the LDP led by Mitsuzuka decided to propose that Sohei Miyashita, former Defense Agency chief and a veteran member of the same group, should be chosen as the new finance minister. But the idea met with opposition from many LDP lawmakers because the appointment of Miyashita — a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat — seems inappropriate at a time when ministry bureaucrats are at the center of a bribery scandal.Some Mitsuzuka faction members are now saying they would be able to go along with the appointment of Mori, who also belongs to the same faction. Mori earlier served in key party and governmental posts, including LDP secretary general and minister of international trade and industry.

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