Oshima steps down over aides' scandals

by Reiji Yoshida

In another blow to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, tarnished farm minister Tadamori Oshima stepped down Monday.

He apologized for “causing trouble” to the Diet and farm ministry officials over a series of alleged financial scandals involving his former secretaries.

Oshima is the first Cabinet minister to resign over a cash scandal since Koizumi took office in 2001. He submitted a letter of resignation to Koizumi in the afternoon; the prime minister immediately accepted it.

Oshima’s resignation could further fuel demands from veteran lawmakers within the Liberal Democratic Party for changes to Koizumi’s Cabinet lineup. They have long pressured the prime minister to sack some of his ministers and thereby drop his reform initiatives.

During Diet sessions, opposition party members have grilled Oshima over the conduct of his former secretaries. The Lower House was planning, moreover, to hold special sessions — the first of which was scheduled for Tuesday — in which those involved in the scandals were invited to appear as unsworn witnesses.

This is believed to be the main factor that prompted Oshima’s sudden resignation.

If Oshima had not resigned, the ruling coalition might have faced an uphill battle in securing sufficient time to debate key government-proposed bills.

Legislation concerning Japan’s response to enemy attacks and another piece aimed at protecting personal information are now expected to be deliberated during the remainder of the current regular Diet session. , which runs through mid-June.

“I want to apologize for the fact that much time was spent (on the scandals) during precious Diet sessions, which caused trouble to the Cabinet and Diet,” Oshima told a news conference Monday. “Among others, I’d like to deeply apologize to farm ministry officials for not being able to create an environment where they can easily work.”

In addition, Oshima cited “one sorrowful incident” that prompted his resignation, although he refused to elaborate, saying merely that it involves another person’s privacy.

According to Kyodo News, the wife of Hiroshi Miyauchi, one of Oshima’s former aides and a key figure in a kickback scandal, committed suicide on Saturday. She apparently hanged herself on the second floor of her house, located in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

During the news conference, Oshima slammed the extensive media coverage of alleged financial scandals, claiming that the reports were “groundless.”

“If any reporting is allowed when the word ‘suspicion ‘ is attached (to the article), it could end up unexpectedly hurting some persons, couldn’t it?” he charged.

On the other hand, Oshima failed to provide any further explanation over a series of shady events, the first of which was exposed by a weekly newsmagazine in October.

The scandals include:

Miyauchi’s alleged acceptance of kickbacks tied to a public works project in Oshima’s Aomori Prefecture constituency. Miyauchi allegedly received 60 million yen from

1994 to 1997 and used some of it to build his own house.

Alleged embezzlement involving another former secretary, Norihisa Fujita, who reportedly pocketed 6 million yen in political donations from a building owner in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in 2000.

Oshima reportedly asking the secretariat of the Lower House to prepare a crib sheet to help him answer questions over the 6 million yen embezzlement case during a Diet session in February.

Oshima claimed he knew nothing about the alleged misdeeds of his former secretaries and denied that he had ordered the Lower House secretariat to prepare the crib sheet.

His resignation is expected to again bring cash scandals involving politicians into the public spotlight.

Koizumi has been unable to silence lawmakers within the LDP, the majority of whom have voiced loud opposition toward any tightening of control on political donations.