Japan leader faces crisis over minister for trade — The New York Times; Japan trade minister in conflict of interest row over Tepco shares — The Guardian

The New York Times: ” TOKYO — The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced a new political crisis on Friday amid revelations that his recently appointed trade minister owns stock in the company whose cleanup of the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant he would oversee.

The cleanup by Tokyo Electric Power Company, which ran the plant when it suffered a triple meltdown, has already been plagued by problems, including the leaking into the sea of tons of radioactive water.

The news about the minister’s stock ownership, first reported in local news media, came soon after revelations that the minister’s aide had visited a club featuring sadomasochistic performances, then reported the visit as a political expense.

Taken together, the revelations have prompted growing calls for the resignation of the trade minister, Yoichi Miyazawa, just days after his predecessor and another cabinet minister stepped down because of financing scandals. Another resignation could be a crippling blow to the government of Mr. Abe, whose first term as prime minister ended seven years ago after a series of scandals in his cabinet.

In a hastily called news conference, Mr. Miyazawa, who is also a lawmaker, said his ownership of 600 shares, worth about $2,000, in Tokyo Electric “won’t affect my decision making,” according to local news media.

“Honestly, I thought it was my duty as a politician to possess them,” Mr. Miyazawa said, according to Kyodo News, saying that ownership of the shares had allowed him to keep an eye on the company’s efforts to clean up after the 2011 nuclear accident.

As trade minister, Mr. Miyazawa leads the committee that oversees the complicated cleanup of the site, which was covered in radioactive material after the meltdowns. The disaster, which happened before Mr. Abe’s second term, has been blamed in part on a cozy relationship between the government and the nuclear industry that led to lax regulation and oversight.

Members of the Abe government have so far dismissed the possibility of Mr. Miyazawa’s resignation, in an attempt to weather yet another scandal at a time when the economic recovery that Mr. Abe has led is showing some signs of faltering. Mr. Abe’s government is still reeling from the back-to-back resignations on Monday of the two cabinet ministers, a double blow that presented the prime minister with the first big political crisis of his current term.

On Friday, opposition lawmakers vowed to press for more details about Mr. Miyazawa’s ownership of shares in Tokyo Electric, also known as Tepco, calling it a conflict of interest.

They seized on the problems to criticize the governing Liberal Democratic Party, which so far has enjoyed strong public support on the basis of Mr. Abe’s economic policies to revive growth.

“Why couldn’t the governing party do a better job of vetting the cabinet members?” said Tatsuo Kawabata of the opposition Democratic Party, adding that Mr. Miyazawa should at least have sold the stock before becoming minister.

The problems with the new trade minister began on Thursday, when news reports claimed that the aide’s visit to an S-and-M club had been included in a list of political expenses filed to Mr. Miyazawa’s office. Later on Thursday, Mr. Miyazawa acknowledged that the aide had been reimbursed 18,230 yen, or about $170, for the visit four years ago to Mazan, a bar in Hiroshima.

Mr. Miyazawa said he had no knowledge of the visit, and had never been to the bar himself.

“I have no interest in such things,” he said. He said he had ordered the aide to repay the money to his office, and to delete the charge from the expense report. ”

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source

A related article by The Guardian that shares additional details: ” Japan’s government is reeling from its third scandal in a week after the trade minister, who oversees nuclear energy, faced questions over his shares in the company that runs the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Yoichi Miyazawa had already faced embarrassment on Thursday when it was revealed that members of his staff had claimed expenses for a visit to a bondage bar. On Friday, Miyazawa denied there was any conflict of interest over his shares in Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), saying he had decided to place them in a trust rather than sell them.

Miyazawa was appointed only days ago after his predecessor, Yuko Obuchi, resigned over a political funding scandal involving her support groups. Hours after Obuchi quit, the justice minister, Midori Matsushima, resigned amid claims that she had violated election laws by distributing paper fans bearing her image to constituents.

The double resignation, combined with the furore over Miyazawa’s shares, have dealt a significant blow to the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, as he nears a decision on an unpopular tax rise and attempts to win public support for the restart of a small number of nuclear reactors. … ”

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