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Japan's new agriculture minister hit by money scandal days after reshuffle

Japan's new agriculture minister hit by money scandal days after reshuffle

Japan's agricultural minister admitted Saturday that a private farming group he leads exaggerated crop damage in order to receive government compensation, in the latest political scandal to embarrass Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration.
The statement came just days after Abe reshuffled his Cabinet after a humiliating upper house electoral loss in July, blamed on a spate of scandals within his government. Two more political fund scandals involving Abe's ruling party lawmakers also emerged Saturday.
Agriculture Minister Takehiko Endo admitted the agriculture cooperative in his home state of Yamagata _ which he has headed for 25 years _ collected 1.15 million yen (US$9,930; euro7,250) in government payments by overstating weather damage done to the 1999 grape harvest.
"It was a serious misconduct," Endo told reporters after Japanese media reported the scandal earlier Saturday.
Endo said he will resign as head of the local farming group, but refused to step down.
Endo is the third agricultural minister to be embroiled in money scandals since May.
Former Agriculture Minister Norihiko Akagi resigned last month to take responsibility for the election defeat following an accounting scandal in his office. His predecessor, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, killed himself in May amid allegations he misused public money.
Two other money scandals emerged Saturday, both involving members of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Vice Foreign Minister Yukiko Sakamoto, a political appointee, acknowledged her support group faked political funds report in 2004 and 2005 to enter fictitious lecture costs, and deputy-chief Cabinet Secretary Mitsuhide Iwaki said he mistakenly reported fundraising ticket sales as political donations.
Opposition leaders renewed their attack on Abe's Cabinet.
"Several members of Abe's new Cabinet are already implicated in political funds scandals, and Prime Minister Abe should be held responsible for appointing them," Japanese Communist Party Secretary Tadayoshi Ichida said in a statement.
Abe resisted calls to resign despite the election loss and overhauled the Cabinet on Monday, tapping a group of party heavyweights and political veterans who were believed to be scandal-free.
"If questions remain, they must be explained," Abe said, urging his agriculture minister to provide a fuller explanation.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano said earlier Saturday the government was unaware of the latest scandal. "We cannot watch over a minister as far as his activity at a special foundation or a cooperative," he said.
Endo said he didn't tell Abe about the issue when he was offered the post Monday. "I didn't think the case would cause trouble," he said.
Endo's agricultural cooperative allegedly penciled in the names of 100 unaffected farms to about 160 households that suffered income losses from bad weather that damaged grapes in 1999, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The case initially surfaced in a Board of Audit inspection three years ago. The farming group has yet to return the money despite the board's order, NHK said.


Updated : 2020-12-04 20:02 GMT+08:00