Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Koya Nishikawa submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday following revelations of political donations, saying he wanted to avoid an adverse impact on the current Diet deliberations.
Abe immediately appointed former agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to replace Nishikawa.
Nishikawa has recently been under fire in Diet deliberations over a donation from a Tokyo-based building management company, which has a close relationship with the Japan Sugar Refiners' Association, a sugar manufacturers' group, as well as a donation from another company.
"I'm responsible for appointing him. I'd like to apologise to the public," Abe told reporters.
"Nishikawa did his utmost in Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement negotiations and for agricultural cooperative reform, so I told him to fulfil his mission as a minister. He showed firm determination, so I respected what he was doing," Abe said.
When asked about the impact on the TPP negotiations and agricultural cooperative reform, Abe said Hayashi is well versed in agricultural and fisheries matters as he has two years of experience as a minister in the former Cabinet. "I believe Mr. Hayashi will grasp the government's situation overnight," he said.
In July 2013, the building management company made the ¥1 million donation to the Liberal Democratic Party's Tochigi No. 2 Constituency branch, which is headed by Nishikawa. At that time, Nishikawa led the LDP's committee in charge of the TPP free trade pact.
Earlier in March that year, the agriculture ministry decided to grant a ¥1.3 billion subsidy to the association. One of the key items that Japan wants to protect in the TPP negotiations is sugar.
The Political Funds Control Law bans a company from making a political donation within a year of being notified about a decision to grant it a state subsidy.
On Feb. 17, Nishikawa said he returned the ¥1 million his branch received that day. Nishikawa had told Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga that the donation does not violate any laws, but that he would return the money to prevent any doubts that could arise.
Abe said on the House of Councillors plenary session on the day, "There's no problem [about the donation] in terms of the Political Funds Control Law. I want Mr. Nishikawa to push on toward various issues including the agricultural cooperative reform."
It was also revealed earlier this month that the branch received in September 2012 ¥3 million (S$34290) in a donation from a company for which the Forestry Agency decided to grant a subsidy. Nishikawa said he returned the money in early January.
Nishikawa said he submitted his resignation as he was afraid that he might cause trouble for Diet deliberations.
"No matter how much I explain in detail [about the political donations], I felt that not everyone would understand what I meant," he told reporters after submitting his resignation.