Japan minister resigns over misusing govt funds on make-up

Japan minister resigns over misusing govt funds on make-up
Japan’s economy minister has resigned after she was accused of misusing political funds, lavishly doled out on cosmetics, accessories and theater trips which she gave to her supporters.

Women are rare in Japanese politics, which is mostly dominated by older men.

Yuko Obuchi, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said at a press conference that government business had been hampered due to questions over her use of money.

"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," said the 40-year-old mother of two, and the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Obuchi allegedly misused political funds on make-up, accessories and theater trips as gifts for her supporters for several years, according to reports released in the media. Cosmetics and trips cost tens of millions of yen (hundreds of thousands of dollars). Her opponents termed the misuse "vote-buying".

Obuchi, however, hasn’t admitted that government funds were frittered away on cosmetics and theater trips.

"I will resign and focus on probing what has been called into question," added Obuchi, who was tipped as a future first female prime minister for Japan.

"Companies and organizations give gifts to people as they engage in economic activities," she said, "It is part of a politician's job to socialize with various people and expand their network while engaging in political activities. I believe these costs should be approved as expenses for political activities."

Obuchi promised “to conduct a thorough investigation on the problem of my political funds," reported Nikkei media.

In Japanese culture, gift giving is common as it is customary not only for social occasions, but also for social obligations. There are even two seasons for gift-giving – summer and winter. Gift giving is also a central part of the country’s business etiquette.

Midori Matsushima (AFP Photo / Toshifumi Kitamura)

In the meantime, another female minister, Justice Minister Midori Matsushima, 58, submitted her resignation to Abe. She was accused of violating electoral laws after printing the content of laws on paper fans and distributing them as reference material for voters at a festival in her electoral district.

On Monday, one of these fans appeared for sale on the internet, with a price of reportedly 2,100 yen ($20).

Abe accepted the resignation of both and added that he would replace them within a day.

"I'm the person who appointed the two. As prime minister, I take responsibility for this and deeply apologize for this situation," he told reporters.

Both Obuchi and Matsushima are among five women appointed by Abe in September in a move to improve his popularity and his intention to boost the role of women in society.