Melons, crabs and a funeral: Japan's trade minister resigns

Isshu Sugawara steps down on allegations that he violated election law just a month after his appointment to the post.

    Isshu Sugawara, who was appointed as Japan's economy minister in September, said he did not want his 'problems to slow down parliament deliberations' [File: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg]
    Isshu Sugawara, who was appointed as Japan's economy minister in September, said he did not want his 'problems to slow down parliament deliberations' [File: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg]

    Japan's Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara resigned on Friday, following accusations that he violated election campaign laws by giving gifts including expensive melons and crabs to voters, and offering a supporter's family condolence money.

    His resignation, which was accepted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, comes just a month after he took up the key post that involved handling a trade dispute with neighbouring South Korea.

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    "I bear responsibility for his appointment and I deeply apologise to the people of Japan for this result," Abe told reporters at his office on Friday.

    Abe said that he had asked Hiroshi Kajiyama to take the helm at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

    Sugawara had been under pressure after the media said he had given gifts to voters in his Tokyo constituency, such as expensive melons and crabs, in possible violations of campaign law.

    An article published by the Shukan Bunshun magazine also alleged that the minister's secretary offered 20,000 yen ($185) as a funeral offering to the family of a supporter.

    Sugawara needed to provide an explanation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had said the previous day.

    "I don't want my problems to slow down parliament deliberations," Sugawara told reporters on Friday, explaining his resignation.

    Kajiyama, who will lead trade talks with Seoul should he accept the appointment, previously held a post in Abe's cabinet as the minister in charge of revitalising local economies.

    Japan and South Korea have been locked in a bitter trade dispute since Tokyo this year tightened export controls on materials vital for South Korean chipmakers, and then dropped Seoul from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports.

    The moves were seen in part as retaliation after South Korea's top court last October ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work in their wartime mines and factories.

    Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon met on Thursday and agreed on the importance of cooperating on North Korea and other issues, seeking to rebuild relations amid the feud over history and trade.

    SOURCE: News agencies