Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday accepted the resignation of farm minister Koya Nishikawa, under fire in the Diet over a political funding scandal, and named former agricultural minister Yoshimasa Hayashi as his successor.

Abe told reporters shortly before 6 p.m. at his office that he had reluctantly accepted Nishikawa’s resignation.

According to Abe, Nishikawa said the scandal was damaging the Cabinet and taking up important time in the Diet.

Abe said he tried to persuade Nishikawa to remain in the post, but his resolve to step down was unshakable.

“Nishikawa made significant contributions to the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, reforms of agricultural cooperatives and agricultural policies,” Abe said of the veteran politician from the Tochigi No. 2 district.

Nishikawa is the third minister who quit over a scandal in less than six months. Trade minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima quit last October, a month after Abe had reshuffled his Cabinet.

Nishikawa became farm minister in that reshuffle.

He told reporters he had not wanted to allow his problem to develop into a larger issue that could affect the entire administration. Nevertheless, he said he believes he did everything he could to clear up reasonable doubts over the affair, but to no avail.

“People who don’t understand will never understand, no matter how hard I try,” he said.

Abe sought to deflect blame from Nishikawa.

“I apologize to the public since responsibility for appointing (Nishikawa) lies with me,” he said.

Nishikawa has been undergoing fierce Diet grilling by the opposition over a donation in September 2012 that a local company made to the Liberal Democratic Party branch in the Tochigi No. 2 district, which he headed.

The payment was widely seen as illegal due to its timing: Four months earlier, the government had decided to grant the firm a ¥700 million subsidy.

The Political Funds Control Law bans companies from making political donations within a year of receiving notification from the government that it is to receive a subsidy.

At the time the subsidy was granted, Nishikawa was not a lawmaker as he had been unseated in a Lower House election and the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

He has separately been implicated in dubious political donations from the sugar industry, which would face economic threats from overseas if the sugar trade is liberalized in the TPP talks.

As Nishikawa’s successor, Abe tapped Hayashi, an LDP lawmaker who served the agricultural post under the Abe administration from December 2012 to last September, when Abe reshuffled his Cabinet.

“I’d like to carry out my responsibility by pushing ahead with (agricultural) policies boldly” with Hayashi, Abe said.

Following Abe’s announcement of his appointment, Hayashi said he will strive to make farming and fisheries more appealing to younger generations.

“To make the agricultural, forestry and fisheries industries appealing to the young people, it is very important to make (such) sectors growth industries,” Hayashi said in his inaugural news conference at the farm ministry.

He also said he will move forward on strategic economic partnership agreements, including the TPP talks, by cooperating with relevant ministers.

Information from Kyodo added

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