TOKYO - Beleaguered Japanese defence minister Tomomi Inada, who has been implicated in a cover-up scandal over mission logs, intends to resign, public broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday (July 27) in its evening bulletin, citing government sources.
This comes on the eve of an expected report on the findings of an internal probe into the scandal.
Ms Inada has been accused of agreeing to the cover-up of the logs of Ground Self-Defence Force (GSDF) troops in South Sudan detailing the situation since July last year, in the young African country that is mired in civil war.
This has erupted into a national controversy for a war-renouncing country with little public appetite for aggression, and where troops can only be sent abroad if there is a ceasefire in place.
Ms Inada, who was once regarded by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as his protege and was appointed as defence chief in August last year after two years as policy chief for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was already widely expected to be replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle next Thursday.
This is the latest development in the saga, for which the GSDF Chief of Staff General Toshiya Okabe has also offered to resign to take responsibility.
Japanese troops were deployed from 2012 to May this year on a United Nations peacekeeping mission to South Sudan, where they focused on infrastructure projects.
Under controversial expanded security laws that took effect last November, they were allowed to open fire in aid of friendly forces.
A memo leaked to private broadcaster Fuji Television on Tuesday by an unnamed Defence Ministry bureaucrat suggested that Ms Inada was not only well aware but also well-involved in the eventual decision to cover up. If proven to be true, this would run contrary to her assertions of innocence to the Diet.
Defence experts suspect the logs to contain incriminating details, as violence in South Sudan had escalated with heavy fighting in July last year, killing at least 300 soldiers and displacing at least 36,000 civilians.
The ministry claimed that both the hard and soft copies of the logs had been discarded when it received a media request for the information. While electronic copies of the logs were found, the defence ministry is saying there is no need to reveal them as these were personally maintained by the soldiers and need not be taken as official.
Ms Inada on Wednesday strongly denied the veracity of the leaked memo, which quoted her as consulting her top officials on how to reply to questions in the Diet on the logs.
Ms Inada's competence has come into question over a string of gaffes, and has been seen as being unable to hold her own under relentless questioning in the Diet.
In a recent blunder, she implied the military supported an LDP candidate in the Tokyo assembly election this month despite the apolitical nature of the defence apparatus.