Japan’s justice minister, who was appointed just 18 days ago, is set to resign, media said on Friday, after he admitted having had links with organised crime.
Keishu Tanaka was brought into the cabinet less than three weeks ago as part of a reshuffle aimed at shoring up Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s shaky administration.
But he was forced to admit a yakuza connection after a tabloid magazine revealed he had once acted as matchmaker for a senior mobster.
Tanaka, whose ministry oversees the work of the courts, apologised and has thus far insisted he would not be stepping down, including at a parliamentary session where he was grilled on the links.
“I won’t resign. The relationship with a crime syndicate is an age-old story,” Tanaka said late Thursday, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.
But a senior Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) official said: “Tanaka should resign and I said so to the Prime Minister,” while another official close to the premier said “we can’t protect Tanaka any more”, the Yomiuri said.
The yakuza are not illegal in Japan, but, like Italy’s Mafia or China’s triads, are involved in a range of illicit activities including drug dealing, prostitution, loan sharking and construction corruption.
On Friday morning Tanaka skipped a cabinet meeting for “health reasons”, the chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters, declining to provide details.
Television footage showed him getting mobbed by reporters, with the minister again saying he would not resign.
However, Japan’s print and broadcast media, which are usually well-informed on political developments -- sometimes more so than the characters involved -- were united on his impending downfall.
Several outlets said he had checked in to a hospital.
Previous political resignations have taken place ostensibly for “health reasons”; new opposition leader Shinzo Abe’s short stint as prime minister ended in 2007 under the veil of his hospitalisation.
Tanaka’s expected resignation would deal a blow to Noda, who is already faced with a shrinking majority and an opposition threatening to block a vital bond issuance bill.
Without the bill’s passage, Japan’s government could run out of money, officials have warned.
Opposition leaders are demanding Noda calls a general election, but commentators say lawmakers in his bickering party are keen to avoid early polls, fearing they will suffer in a national ballot.