House of Representatives lawmaker Kanju Sato tendered his resignation from the Diet on Thursday amid allegations that he pocketed the state-paid salary of a woman falsely registered as his secretary.
The 62-year-old lawmaker submitted his resignation to Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono in the morning and left the Diet immediately afterward without speaking to reporters.
Sato registered a woman as a public secretary, according to media reports, and pocketed her salary. The woman reportedly never worked for his office and received no salary.
The Lower House is expected to approve Sato’s resignation at a plenary session Friday. Shogo Tsugawa, runnerup on the DPJ’s candidate list for the Tokai proportional representation bloc in November’s general election, will take Sato’s seat.
“We want to offer a sincere apology to the public for having caused the confusion that led (Sato) to submit his resignation” from the Diet, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada told reporters. “He once served as a Cabinet minister and has a fine character.” But Okada added that if the media reports prove true, “We cannot believe his imprudence in causing such an incident.”
It is the second scandal to hit a DPJ lawmaker since the Lower House general election. Junichiro Koga was expelled from the party in January for making false claims about his academic background.
According to the media reports, the 51-year-old secretary was registered between June 2000 and last April as one of Sato’s three public secretaries. Sato is suspected of receiving her salary in cash and depositing the money into a bank account in the name of his 52-year-old wife, who also serves as his secretary.
The 51-year-old secretary has said she allowed Sato to register her as his public secretary, and has admitted she never worked for him or received any payment, police said.
Investigators are expected to question Sato soon, and may pursue criminal charges.
The DPJ will decide what to do with Sato at a meeting of its standing executives Tuesday, Okada said. He said the party needs more time to grasp the situation. A senior party official said that if Sato does not make a public explanation by that time, he will be expelled from the party.
Sato had scheduled a news conference in his home prefecture of Aichi on Tuesday, when the allegation first surfaced. But he abruptly called it off without giving a reason.
On Wednesday, he tendered his resignation from the DPJ to take responsibility for causing trouble to the party. But Okada refused to accept it, and a majority of party members demanded that party leaders take a tough stance on the issue.
The latest development threatens to undermine the DPJ’s position ahead of the April Lower House by-elections and July House of Councilors election.
“The DPJ, more than any other party, should always be devoted to political reforms,” Yoshihiko Noda, head of Diet affairs for the DPJ, said Thursday. “In that respect, (the scandal) has created a bad impression.”
In November’s Lower House general election, senior staff of three DPJ candidates were arrested on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law.
Sato’s case is the latest in a string of scandals involving politicians and their secretaries.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto, former policy chief of the Social Democratic Party, was given a suspended two-year prison term last month for skimming state salaries for her policy secretaries.
Tadayoshi Ichida, head of the secretariat of the Japanese Communist Party, called Sato’s resignation a “matter of course.”
“His responsibility is more grave if he indeed continued to (misappropriate public money) after Tsujimoto’s case came to light,” Ichida said.
Jiro Kawasaki, vice chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Diet Affairs Committee, urged the DPJ to fulfill its responsibility to clear up all the allegations against Sato.
Sato, who is serving his 11th term in the Diet, was home affairs minister in 1993 in then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s Cabinet.