Japan's justice minister resigns over links to organised crime

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 10:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 11:15am


Japan’s justice minister quit on Tuesday due to ill health, and amid calls for his resignation over past ties to an organised crime syndicate, dealing another blow to unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Keishu Tanaka, 74, became justice minister only three weeks ago in a cabinet reshuffle on October 1, and his resignation is the second by a minister since Noda took office September last year, reflecting Noda’s weak grip on the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference on Tuesday that Tanaka stepped down due to his health.

Tanaka’s resignation came a day after he left a Tokyo hospital, having checked in on Friday with chest pains, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure, following days of intensifying calls for his resignation after a magazine report linked him to organised crime.

Tanaka said he acted as a matchmaker at a mobster’s wedding and attended a party thrown by the head of a crime group about 30 years ago, explaining that he was not aware of the groom’s mob connections or the nature of the event at the time.

Tanaka has also admitted shortly after his appointment that his party branch accepted 420,000 yen ($5,300) in donations from a company run by a foreigner between 2006 and 2009. Accepting funds from foreign nationals is illegal if done so knowingly.

Tanaka’s office said he had returned all of the money, according to media.

The Tanaka scandal is the latest in a string of setbacks for Noda, the ruling Democrats’ third prime minister in as many years, who is expected to lose the next election.

Last year then Trade Minister Yoshio Hachiro quit his job about a week after his appointment in September over a gaffe about radiation following a visit to Fukushima, hit by a tsunami and quake last year which resulted in a nuclear disaster.

Government policy-making has stalled since the regular parliament session ended last month, with the opposition blocking legislation in a split parliament to try and force early elections.

Noda’s ruling party has decided to convene an extra session of parliament from Oct. 29 to try to pass a bill needed to cover nearly half the government’s budget spending, setting the stage for another showdown with the opposition.