Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada will resign to take responsibility for a cover-up scandal, local media reported last night citing government sources, with her decision coming just a week before an expected Cabinet reshuffle.
She is expected to submit her letter of resignation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today, NHK said.
Also due today is a report of an internal probe into the scandal, in which Ms Inada is alleged to have green-lighted the concealment of mission logs of ground troops in South Sudan in July last year.
General Toshiya Okabe, the chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defence Force, has also offered to step down, media reports said.
Ms Inada, whom Mr Abe once regarded as his protege, was already widely expected to be replaced in the Cabinet shake-up next Thursday. The beleaguered defence minister, who served the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as its policy chief for two years, was appointed only last August.
But over the past year, her competence has come into question as she is seen to be unable to hold her own under relentless questioning in the Diet, while she has also drawn flak for a series of gaffes.
Japanese ground troops had been deployed from 2012 to May this year in the young African country that is mired in civil war, as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. They were mainly involved in infrastructure projects.
But the situation in South Sudan deteriorated in July last year as heavy fighting erupted, killing at least 300 soldiers and displacing at least 36,000 civilians.
Defence experts suspect the logs contain incriminating details, as the scandal erupted into a national controversy. Japan, as a war-renouncing country with little public appetite for aggression, only allows troops to be sent abroad if there is a ceasefire in place.
News of the two resignations came after an internal memo was leaked to private broadcaster Fuji Television on Tuesday by an unnamed Defence Ministry bureaucrat. It suggested that Ms Inada was not only well aware but also deeply involved in the eventual decision to cover up.
Ms Inada on Wednesday strongly denied the veracity of the memo, which quoted her as consulting her top officials on how to reply to questions in the Diet regarding the logs.
The ministry has claimed that both the hard and soft copies of the logs had been discarded after the media asked for the information.
Although electronic copies of the logs were eventually found, the ministry said there was no need to release them as these were personally maintained by the soldiers and need not be taken as official.
The scandal flared up as the LDP is grappling with sinking approval ratings that have plunged below 30 per cent in several polls, as Mr Abe himself was implicated in two successive favouritism scandals.
Kyodo news agency reported yesterday that Mr Abe might reappoint a former defence minister as he tries to steady the ship.
Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara told The Straits Times the leaked memo was "the torpedo that sank the boat", adding that the ministry's credibility has suffered under Ms Inada's watch.
He said: "As the security situation becomes more tense, we need someone who can provide experience and stability."