Abe faces questions about donations

Updated: 2015-03-04 07:51

By Agencies in Tokyo(China Daily)

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For the first time, premier says he accepted payments from firms that received subsidies

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that he accepted donations from firms that received government subsidies as he personally faced questions about potentially improper donations for the first time.

He has already lost three Cabinet members to scandals. Abe returned for a rare second term in 2012, pledging to reboot Japan's economy, and his ruling coalition cruised to another big election win in December. His support remains above 50 percent, high for a Japanese prime minister.

Abe's agriculture minister quit last week after questions about his funds threatened to snarl parliament, which has delayed passage of the budget for the year from April.

Last year, two Cabinet ministers quit, one for possible misuse of political funds and one for a campaign law violation.

Political analysts have said Abe's government would inevitably be hit hard if more ministers stepped down, but the fallout looks limited for now.

Kyodo News Agency said a branch of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party in his home constituency got a total of 620,000 yen ($5,165) from chemical companies that received government subsidies in 2012 and 2013.

Japan's political funds control law bans companies from making political donations within a year of receiving government subsidies. But Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi told a parliamentary panel there was no legal problem if the politician was unaware of the subsidies at the time.

"I really didn't know what I didn't know and I can't say more than that," Abe said.

"It is a problem if politicians exercise their political power to respond to a request in exchange for money," Abe said, adding that discussions by political parties were needed to dispel public concerns.

Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters he would return 120,000 yen he received in 2013 and 2014 from a company that obtained government subsidies.

"There are thousands of subsidy programs. It is hard to keep track of them all," he said.

Agriculture Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said he had received donations from two firms that got subsidies but was unaware of the subsidies at the time.

Hayashi's predecessor quit last week amid questions over his political fundraising, while the education, environment and justice ministers have also denied wrongdoing.

Last year, two female ministers, representatives of Abe's "womenomics", resigned due to political funds problems. The resignations were among the issues that prompted Abe to dissolve the lower house and call a snap general election.

Then trade minister Yuko Obuchi and then justice minister Midori Matsushima quit their posts for misuse of political funds, only a month after their appointments in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Reuters - Xinhua

(China Daily 03/04/2015 page11)