Trade minister Isshu Sugawara came under pressure Thursday after a weekly magazine reported that his secretary offered condolence money in a possible violation of the country’s election laws.
Both ruling and opposition party lawmakers stepped up calls for Sugawara, who only assumed his Cabinet post in September, to address the allegations reported by the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine.
“If the report is true, it constitutes a clear violation of the Public Offices Election Law. We’d like to urge him to demonstrate his accountability,” Kazuhiro Haraguchi, the Diet affairs chief of the Democratic Party for the People, told a news conference.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the minister “should explain it as necessary,” without elaborating.
According to the magazine, Sugawara’s secretary offered ¥20,000 in condolence money to the bereaved family of a supporter in his Tokyo district in mid-October. His office also sent funeral flowers to multiple bereaved families this year, the magazine reported.
The law bans politicians from making donations to voters in their home districts. Politicians are, however, allowed to offer money personally at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.
There are growing calls in the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito for Sugawara to swiftly explain what happened.
“If he didn’t abide by the law, we can’t defend him,” a senior Komeito lawmaker said.
Speaking to reporters Thursday evening, Sugawara said he will seek to explain the matter Friday during a Diet session.
The report could come as a headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has entrusted Sugawara with overseeing trade and industrial policies.