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Social Democratic Party leader Takako Doi denied speculation Saturday that she will resign to take responsibility for the arrest of former party lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who is being questioned over the misuse of the salaries of her state-paid secretaries.

During a hastily arranged news conference Saturday night, Doi said, “I was unaware of the series of incidents. It is false to claim that the entire party was involved.”

The news conference, also attended by SDP Secretary General Mizuho Fukushima, was Doi’s first appearance before the media since Tsujimoto’s arrest Friday night. Doi has been harshly criticized for failing to appear in public.

The SDP leader emphasized that it is her duty to cooperate with the investigation.

Murayama quizzed

Police have questioned former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in connection with an allegation that former Social Democratic Party policy chief Kiyomi Tsujimoto misused the salaries of her state-paid secretaries, sources close to the case said Saturday.

Murayama’s former policy secretary, Yoshie Sasaki, was arrested Friday with Tsujimoto and two other aides on suspicion of defrauding the state out of about 19 million yen by using salaries intended for the policy secretaries to cover Tsujimoto’s office expenses.

Shortly before becoming Murayama’s secretary, Sasaki registered as Tsujimoto’s policy secretary. She worked for her between November 1996 and March 1997.

The police suspect Sasaki allowed Tsujimoto to list her as an aide during the five-month period, as she later had a contract to work as Murayama’s secretary for the same period of time.

The police asked Murayama why he hired Sasaki, the sources said, quoting Murayama as saying, “Sasaki told me she wanted to be hired because the secretary position happened to be vacant at the time.”

Murayama, who served as prime minister from 1994 to 1996, headed the Socialist Party of Japan, the main predecessor of the smaller opposition SDP.

Sasaki has told investigators she was not involved in a plan to work as Murayama’s secretary while working for Tsujimoto.

The sources also allege that Masako Goto, SDP chief Takako Doi’s former policy secretary, who was also arrested Friday, introduced Sasaki and the other female secretary to Tsujimoto in November 1996 and April 1997 and taught them how to misuse government salaries.

The police believe Goto and Tsujimoto masterminded the fraud, the sources said.

But Goto reportedly said she did not plan to misappropriate the salaries.

The police allege Tsujimoto paid the two female secretaries only a fraction of their government salaries from November 1996 to December 1998, and used the rest of the money to run her office.

Tsujimoto, who has denied the charge, left the House of Representatives after the scandal surfaced in March 2002.

High-ranking officials of the SDP were at a loss Saturday over how to deal with the scandal.

Doi withdrew from a reception in Tokyo to welcome British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Saturday, while Mizuho Fukushima, secretary general of the SDP, did not appear at an official party meeting in Kanagawa Prefecture.