Japan Trade Minister Yuko Obuchi resigns over funds misuse scandal: Reports

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi facing the media in Tokyo on Oct 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi facing the media in Tokyo on Oct 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's high-profile and telegenic industry minister on Monday resigned over claims she misused political funds, including to buy both votes and make-up, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's gender reform drive.

Ms Yuko Obuchi told a press conference carried live on multiple television channels that parliamentary business had been stalled because of questions over her spending. "It is not permissible for me as Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to have economy and energy policies stalled because of my own problems," she said. "I will resign and focus on probing what has been called into question," she told reporters after a 30-minute meeting with Mr Abe.

"As a member of the Abe cabinet... I am sorry and offer my sincere apologies for having contributed nothing to economic revival, realisation of a society in which women shine and various other tasks," she said, before bowing deeply to the sound of hundreds of camera shutters.

She is the first minister to resign since Mr Abe took power in December 2012, and her loss will be a personal blow to the Premier, who has repeatedly said he wants to boost the lot of women in Japan.

Ms Obuchi, the daughter of a former prime minister, had been tipped to become the country's first female prime minister.

Her elevation was the big news when Mr Abe reshuffled his Cabinet in September, giving a politician with little Cabinet experience a powerful portfolio that includes oversight of the energy sector.

She was the most prominent of five women brought into the Cabinet, a figure that ties the record for the most women in an administration.

But she is now facing claims that, over the five years to 2012, her political funding body spent more than 10 million yen (S$119,300) on things unconnected to politics, including cosmetics and accessories at a department store.

Her political group also invited residents in her electoral district in central Japan on bus tours to see theatre performances in Tokyo at fees below actual cost - a move opposition lawmakers have said amounts to "vote-buying".

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