Tokyo governor resigns amid money scandal

Mr Masuzoe (in grey suit) has been under fire over misuse of tax money on personal expenses, including family trips.
Mr Masuzoe (in grey suit) has been under fire over misuse of tax money on personal expenses, including family trips.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Yet more embarrassment for city which will host 2020 Olympics

TOKYO • The governor of Tokyo resigned yesterday after coming under fire for misuse of tax money, including spending on family trips and artwork, the latest embarrassment as the Japanese capital prepares to host the 2020 Olympics.

The unpopular Mr Yoichi Masuzoe fell on his sword just hours before facing a no-confidence vote, making him the city's second governor to quit since Tokyo was named host of the 2020 summer games. Mr Masuzoe's predecessor, Mr Naoki Inose - who led the capital's successful Olympic bid - bowed out in late 2013 after also becoming embroiled in a personal finance scandal.

On assuming office as governor, the telegenic, French-speaking Mr Masuzoe, a former health and labour minister, pledged to run an administration free of money scandals.

But his woes began in April when reports emerged that he was using his official car to be driven on weekends to a cottage south of Tokyo.

Further allegations emerged that Mr Masuzoe had travelled overseas in first class and spent public money on family outings and accommodation in Japan.

He has faced repeated grilling by the legislature - and in the media. He admitted to ethical lapses, but denied breaking any laws. His refusal to explain his spending fuelled anger among Tokyo voters, who have bombarded the government with thousands of complaints. Opinion polls found a vast majority calling for his head.

"He really took his time about quitting, it was definitely a minus for Tokyo," one woman told NHK national television. "Taking up so much time with this thing rather than real issues hasn't been good for the city."

A spokesman for the Tokyo metropolitan government, requesting anonymity, said: "We've been told by the governor that the resignation is dated June 21."

An election for a new governor is expected as early as next month.

Mr Masuzoe's departure is unlikely to significantly impact the city's ability to manage the Olympics, but it adds to the lengthening list of embarrassments that have plagued the preparations for the Games.

The original main stadium design had to be scrapped over ballooning costs and the official logo was caught up in a plagiarism row.

French prosecutors have also launched an investigation into US$2 million (S$2.7 million) in alleged bribes linked to Tokyo's host bid, an allegation the organisers deny.

Ms Yuko Arakida, a board member of the organising committee, told local media Mr Masuzoe's departure was "extremely regrettable", citing his "foreign language proficiency" and "emotional attachment to the Games". His resignation "will not bring about a positive image" of Tokyo, she added.

As the scandal mounted, all the major parties in the Tokyo legislature agreed to submit a no-confidence motion against Mr Masuzoe.

Local media reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - the biggest force in the capital's politics and Mr Masuzoe's main supporter - was concerned that the scandal-tainted governor could damage its chances in upcoming parliamentary elections. The motion was shelved when Mr Masuzoe pre-empted it by resigning.

Local media immediately began speculating on possible candidates to succeed Mr Masuzoe.

Among them are opposition Lower House member and former TV anchorwoman, Ms Renho, who goes by one name, and Ms Yuriko Koike, also a Lower House member for the ruling LDP, a former defence minister and anchorwoman.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Tokyo governor resigns amid money scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe