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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Agricultural Minister resigns - again and again!


Japan is about to get its fourth Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in less than a year! What is more, the latest incumbent, Takehiko Endo, lasted a mere 8 days before being felled by a money scandal - just like the two that went before him. This is the fifth resignation of a cabinet minister under a cloud of scandal since the present prime minister, Shinzo Abe, took over the reins a year ago.

The first agricultural minister of Prime Minister Abe's cabinet, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, was in office for 8 months from September 26, 2006, to May 28, 2007. News of his swindling of the government of large sums of money by means of fraudulent office expense claims (at least USD2 million) was his undoing. He tragically ended his term on the day he was due to be officially questioned by hanging himself in his apartment.

His successor, Norihiko Akagi was minister for only two months, from June 1 to August 1 this year, but fell for almost exactly the same reasons as Matsuoka: for claiming for over 17 years "expenses" for freely provided government office space, as well as for a non-existent “office” in a house belonging to his wife. He thereby embezzled sums in the same ballpark as his predecessor Matsuoka.

The just-fallen Takehiko Endo, appointed on August 27, resigned yesterday morning - again for money reasons. His undoing was the revelation that the Oitama Agricultural Cooperative Society, in Yamagata prefecture, of which he is president, overstated by over one million yen its claim for government compensation for crop damage to a vineyard back in 1991. In spite of this having come to light in 2004, the cooperative has still made no move to repay the money - a fact that led to his downfall.

The new Minister will be Masatoshi Wakabayashi. How long he will last is anyone's guess. In February of this year the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper revealed that 3 years ago Wakabayashi failed to declare an unspent 4 million yen of the election funds he received. Although never charged with any crime, this nevertheless appears to be in contravention of the Public Offices Election Law.

So, it's OK: you can probably hold your breath for No.5!

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