Japan lawmaker resigns over $9.8m loan scandal

Japan lawmaker resigns over $9.8m loan scandal
This picture taken on April 7, 2014 shows Japan's opposition Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe announcing his resignation from the post at his office in Tokyo.

TOKYO - A senior Japanese politician has announced he is resigning as his party's leader, despite insisting that he spent an undeclared US$8 million (S$9.8 million) loan not on politics but on personal items - including an ornamental rake.

Yoshimi Watanabe, the latest lawmaker to be felled by a cash scandal, said he was stepping down from the helm of the small but influential Your Party to try to contain the fallout from the incident.

Watanabe accepted 800 million yen ($9.8 million) from the chairman of a huge 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 "kumade" - a bamboo rake believed to confer luck on its holder.

Announcing his resignation Monday, Watanabe said again he had done nothing wrong and insisted the cash had been unconnected 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," the 62-year-old politician told reporters, adding he would stay in parliament as a lawmaker.

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

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 US-imposed pacifist constitution and is pushing to broaden the role of the military to permit "collective self-defence", allowing Japanese troops to come to the aid of allies.

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

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 lawmaker after another gets skewered over "loans" from powerful businessmen - bolstering the public impression that influence is for sale.

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