Yoshimi Watanabe quits as leader of Your Party over cash scandal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 12:38am


A senior Japanese politician has announced his resignation as his party's leader, despite insisting that he spent an undeclared US$8 million loan not on illicit political purposes, but on personal items, supposedly including an ornamental rake.

Yoshimi Watanabe, 62, the latest to be felled by a cash scandal, said he was stepping down from guiding the small but influential Your Party to minimise damage from the incident.

Watanabe's fall could be a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to remake Japan's Self Defence Forces as a modern military.

The conservative premier has spoken repeatedly of his desire to revise the country's United States-imposed pacifist constitution introduced after the second world war.

Under Watanabe, Your Party has expressed support for the agenda, offering at least a veneer of support to Abe's drive while his junior coalition partner, the secular Buddhist New Komeito, has proved reluctant.

Watanabe accepted the money from the chairman of a big cosmetics company. Japanese law requires that all political donations be made public.

Watanabe said earlier the money had been a personal loan that he had spent on "miscellaneous items" including a decorative bamboo rake believed to confer luck on its holder.

Announcing his resignation on Monday, Watanabe said he had done nothing wrong and insisted the cash was not connected to his electoral ambitions.

"Although there is no legal problem at all, it is true that I caused trouble to the party. I bear all the responsibility for this," he said, adding he would stay in parliament.

Your Party planned to hold an election to choose his successor this week, Jiji Press reported, while prosecutors were reportedly looking into the cash transfer to see if any charges should be laid.

The furore surrounding Watanabe is the latest in a long line of cash scandals that surface every few months in Japan, as one high-profile legislator after another becomes enmeshed over "loans" from powerful businessmen, which only bolsters the widespread public impression that influence is for sale to those with the financial resources.