Justice Minister Resigns
TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s newly appointed justice minister resigned Friday under a barrage of criticism for accepting political donations from a company at the center of a major scandal.
″There is nothing wrong with politicians accepting donations made from the good will of their supporters,″ Takashi Hasegawa told reporters at the Justice Ministry. ″However, as minister in charge of clearing up the Recruit problem in the Takeshita administration, which is trying to heighten trust in government, it is regrettable that I received donations from Recruit.
″I apologize deeply and resign from my post as justice minister.″
Kyodo News Service said Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita accepted the resignation. Just Tuesday, Takeshita chose Hasegawa to handle a probe of a stock-profiteering scandal involving influential politicians and business leaders and the Recruit Co.
The secretary general of Takeshita’s Liberal Democratic Party, Shintaro Abe, said the administration may look outside government to replace Hasegawa. He said a new minister probably would be named before the weekend.
Takeshita reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday in a move to rid his administration of any links to the scandal involving the purchase of unlisted stocks by a select number of individuals.
On Thursday, Takeshita told Chief Cabinet Secretary Keizo Obuchi to look into the history of other new Cabinet members’ ties to Recruit Co., an information and publishing conglomerate at the center of the scandal.
Kyodo said Obuchi also accepted donations from Recruit. Two other new Cabinet members have acknowledged that Recruit bought tickets for their fund- raising parties.
Opposition party leaders had demanded Takeshita fire Hasegawa and said the prime minister should take responsibility for appointing Hasegawa without checking whether he had ties with Recruit.
″Appointing a person related to the Recruit scandal as justice minister, who is in charge of investigation into the scandal, is out of the question. It is not something they can get away by saying they did not know,″ said Mitsuhiro Kaneko, head of the Japan Communist Party’s secretariat.
Influential politicians and business leaders were offered bargain-priced shares in Recruit-Cosmos, a Recruit real estate subsidiary, before they were listed for public sale. Share prices rose sharply after their public offering, and some shareholders made more than $80,000 in tax-free profits.
Former Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa heads the roster of 17 politicians and business leaders who resigned earlier in the scandal. A former Recruit official pleaded guilty to trying to bribe an opposition Parliament member to tone down his investigation.
But Hasegawa’s and Obuchi’s reported links with Recruit differed from the other cases.
The day after Hasegawa’s appointment, it was disclosed that his political support organization received $46,000 in membership dues from Recruit over 12 years. The latest donation of $3,800 came in October, about three months after the Recruit scandal erupted.
On Thursday, Takeshita said Hasegawa told him that accepting membership fees from Recruit ″lacked prudence, and I fully agree with him.″ But Takeshita added, ″I believe his ability will allow him to fulfill his responsibility as justice minister.″
The prime minister said earlier Hasegawa would play a key role in promoting reform in political ethics and that Hasegawa was the best man for the job.
Hasegawa, 76, told a news conference Thursday he was ″truly careless″ in not knowing about the donations, but ″as justice minister I don’t think this matter will be an impediment.″
Hasegawa first denied allegations about the donations, and then said they were made without his knowledge. But his son and secretary, Akira Hasegawa, said he told his father about the donations as early as October.
In forming his new Cabinet on Tuesday, Takeshita sought to put the Recruit scandal behind him.
But critics link Takeshita himself to the scandal since one of his aides profited from sales of bargain Recruit shares. The prime minister has denied any personal involvement.
Kyodo said Obuchi’s support organization has been receiving $160 a month from Recruit, although it was not known for how long.
It said Obuchi’s only comment was, ″We have been complying with the law in handling political donations.″
Tsutomu Hata, the new agriculture minister, acknowledged that Recruit bought tickets for his fund-raising party in 1986, but did not disclose the amount.
Another new Cabinet official, Ken Harada, director general of the Economic Planning Agency, acknowledged he received donations from Recruit for more than 10 years and that Recruit has bought tickets for his fund-raising parties.
Like the stock transactions, the political donations were legal. But critics contend the stock deals were unethical and were donations in disguise.
Tsuruo Yamaguchi, general secretary of the largest opposition party, the Socialists, had demanded Hasegawa’s resignation.