Scandal-ridden Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose announced his resignation Thursday for taking money from a hospital operator mired in allegations of election law violations involving a Diet member.
Inose said he decided to step down to prevent the scandal from disrupting Tokyo’s preparations to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, which he had played an instrumental role in landing.
“I can’t clog up metropolitan government operations any more due to a personal issue. To resolve this situation, there is no way other than to step down as governor,” Inose, who had just finished his first year on the job, said during a hastily arranged news conference in the metropolitan government building.
“I really feel sorry for Tokyo’s citizens and the national public,” Inose said in apology as he bowed deeply for several seconds.
The election to pick his successor is expected to be held either Feb. 2 or Feb. 9, both Sundays. Official campaigning will get under way either Jan. 16 or Jan. 23, according to an election board official.
The Public Offices Election Law states that a gubernatorial election must be held within 50 days after the president of the prefectural assembly informs the election committee of a governor’s resignation. Inose tendered his resignation to Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly President Toshiaki Yoshino before his news conference Thursday morning.
After serving as vice governor from June 2007, the former author was elected to the top job last December with a record 4.3 million votes. He succeeded Shintaro Ishihara, who quit in the middle of his fourth term to run for the Lower House.
Inose’s decision to quit came just before the budget-making process for next fiscal year enters full swing in January. The metropolitan budget is scheduled to be approved by the assembly in March. In addition, the organizing committee for the 2020 Olympics is set to be launched in February.
Inose acknowledged that his efforts to explain the “personal loan” to the public and assembly members fell short.
He reiterated that the ¥50 million that came from the scandal-hit Tokushukai hospital group last year before the December election was for personal use and not for his campaign. Inose returned the money in late September, after it was reported that the group was being probed in connection with the Lower House campaign of Takeshi Tokuda.
Inose initially resisted calls for his resignation as the scandal deepened but eventually raised the white flag after seeking advice from his mentors this week.
Inose met Tuesday with Ishihara, who had anointed him as his successor, and Wednesday with Saburo Kawabuchi, who ran his gubernatorial campaign. He said both told him he would have to resign, saying it wasn’t right to disrupt metropolitan affairs any longer.
He said his decision to resign had nothing to do with Wednesday’s media reports on his alleged money-for-favors deal with Tokushukai founder Torao Tokuda, in which Tokuda reportedly told Inose in a meeting in November 2012 that the hospital and medical facilities chain wanted to acquire a hospital run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Takeshi Tokuda is the founder’s son.
Inose claimed he couldn’t remember this conversation with Torao.
He added that any transaction regarding the hospital would be entirely in Tepco’s hands and not the business of the metropolitan government.
Tepco announced a plan to sell the hospital in Shinjuku Ward in October 2012 to streamline its fiscal standing, which was devastated by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Tokushukai took part in the bidding for the hospital in August but withdrew when it came under a criminal investigation by prosecutors in September over the alleged election violations involving Takeshi Tokuda.
The governor of Tokyo has the authority to grant permission to open a hospital in the capital and has a huge budget to provide subsidies to such facilities.
Inose flatly denied that his resignation was triggered by the assembly’s decision Wednesday to set up a special investigative committee over the money scandal.
An assembly committee had grilled Inose for a total of 20 hours over the course of four days in the past two weeks, during which he changed his story several times. His flip-flops prompted protests and further doubts, paving the way for the assembly to set up the special committee with the power of subpoena.
Turning to his successor, Inose said he hopes the next governor will be suitable for preparing for the Olympics.
“I earnestly want the 2020 Games to be successful,” he said. “So I want the next governor to be someone who is familiar with sports and who can make Tokyo a city full of sports activities.”
Experts on the metro government and issues related to the Olympics agreed that Inose’s announcement came too late.
“Inose should have resigned when the scandal broke” in November, said Meiji University professor Yasushi Aoyama, Tokyo’s vice governor from 1999 to 2003.
Aoyama said Inose’s unclear explanations damaged Tokyo citizens’ trust in the governor.
Naofumi Masumoto, a Tokyo Metropolitan University professor and an expert on issues related to the Olympics, expressed concern that the capital’s preparations may be delayed due to the latest political hubbub.
On the road ahead are the launch of the organizing committee and the planned four-member Olympic Board on the committee.
Members of the decision-making Olympic Board will include the Tokyo governor, the committee chairman, the Olympics minister from the central government and the Japanese Olympic Committee president.
“Considering the impact, he should have resigned much earlier, gracefully,” Masumoto said.
The Inose scandal further amplified public distrust in politicians’ financial affairs, Aoyama pointed out. Thus the next governor should not commit the same mistake, he added.
Masumoto, meanwhile, said the key to Tokyo’s successful preparations for the 2020 Games is whether the next governor has the desire to host the event.
“If the next governor is not so positive with the Olympic movement, it’s going to be hard to proceed.”