NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Seiko Higa, mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, offered to resign Wednesday, one day after he was arrested for allegedly receiving illegal donations in a 2001 election.
The resignation, offered to the city government through Higa’s lawyer, is expected to result in an April 27 mayoral election as part of nationwide local elections.
But Higa, 64, continued to deny any connection with the donations, police sources said.
Police searched his residence and offices Wednesday, including the mayor’s office at City Hall.
Deputy Mayor Tatsuo Matayoshi said he has become acting mayor of the city, which is known for the presence of a contentious U.S. air base.
Higa supported the planned transfer of the Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to a planned military-civilian airport in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, when he sought re-election in 2001.
His arrest has prompted speculation that the transfer plan by the national and Okinawa prefectural governments may be delayed. Opponents hope the agreed return of the Futenma site to Japan from the U.S. forces will lead to a reduction in the heavy U.S. military presence in Okinawa.
Police suspect Higa violated the Public Offices Election Law and the Political Fund Control Law by conspiring with supporters to receive 22 million yen in donations just before the July 2001 election and falsifying reports on them.
Higa allegedly received the money from about 90 firms, including a combined 3 million yen in June 2001 from three construction firms that won bids for the city’s public works projects, and incorrectly reported that the money was provided via a local Liberal Democratic Party chapter.
The Public Offices Election Law prohibits politicians’ support groups from receiving donations from firms that have won contracts for public works projects.
Some senior officials in Higa’s support group and others involved have already been indicted in the case.
Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 that the U.S. would vacate about 21 percent of its facilities in Okinawa, with the transfer of the Futenma base as the deal’s centerpiece.
Okinawa hosts about 75 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
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