Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa resigned Friday over scandals involving rightist connections and an extramarital affair, dealing a fresh political blow to embattled Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s administration.

Mori appointed Yasuo Fukuda, 64, a Lower House member and former parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs, as Nakagawa’s successor. Fukuda, elected from the Gunma No. 4 constituency, is the son of the late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and a member of Mori’s faction in the Liberal Democratic Party.

Mori also appointed Taichi Sakaiya, head of the Economic Planning Agency, to concurrently serve as a state minister in charge of information technology, a post held by Nakagawa.

“I offered to resign (because) I should no longer cause trouble to the people and important state affairs with the series of problems that I have caused,” Nakagawa told a news conference. He tendered his resignation to Mori after a Cabinet meeting in the morning.

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble and worry to many people,” he said.

Nakagawa, however, continues to deny most of the allegations against him.

He became the second minister from Mori’s Cabinet forced to resign. Kimitaka Kuze, former chairman of the Financial Reconstruction Commission, stepped down in July, less than a month after assuming the post, for receiving benefits from Mitsubishi Trust & Banking Corp. and condominium builder Daikyo Inc. before he took office.

Nakagawa’s resignation came after weekly magazines accused him of links with a senior member of a rightist group, having an extramarital affair with a bar hostess and leaking police information to her.

A tape of a phone conversation allegedly between Nakagawa and the woman in 1995 was played on television Thursday evening; the topic of the conversation is a police investigation into drug abuse.

On top of his private scandals, Nakagawa had been under heavy criticism in the past week for his flip-flop explanations of a controversial proposal made to North Korea in 1997 to resolve a diplomatic row over 10 missing Japanese Tokyo believes were kidnapped by Pyongyang agents.

After Mori let word of the proposal slip, Nakagawa was forced into damage-control mode. He first said the proposal, made by LDP Lower House member Masaaki Nakayama, was the latter’s personal idea but had to retract the statement a day later when Nakayama publicly called him and Mori “liars.”

During his last news conference as top government spokesman, Nakagawa denied all the allegations against him except the extramarital affair, which he claimed was a “private issue.”

Repeating earlier remarks, Nakagawa stressed that he has no link with a senior member of a rightist group reportedly affiliated with the yakuza. The weekly magazine Focus recently carried an undated photo showing Nakagawa sitting face to face with the man in a restaurant.

Nakagawa claimed that although he himself cannot recall the man, he has found out the man was apparently a Shinto priest at the time of the meeting and joined the rightist group only recently.

Nakagawa also denied he leaked police information about a drug investigation to the woman as the audiotape indicates. The man’s voice on the tape “sounds somehow similar to my voice,” he claimed, adding, however, that “it is impossible to obtain investigative information.”

He then admitted to “a faint recollection” of possibly advising the woman to be careful because of drug abuse “rumors” he had heard. The woman denied in the tape that she was illegally using drugs.

Meanwhile, investigative sources confirmed Friday that police searched the woman’s apartment in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on May 27, 1995, on suspicion she was carrying drugs.

The search, however, failed to turn up any illegal stimulants and no charges were filed.

Nakagawa categorically denied he was involved in illegal drug use himself or had signed a false name on a medical document on an abortion the woman reportedly had undergone.

But he effectively admitted he had an affair, saying: “There may have been a period when I was not a saint. . . . I don’t think what happened in the past was desirable.”

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