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Scandal-hit minister Katayama dodges Diet questions, citing court case

Regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama dodged answers to key questions from opposition parties on Nov. 1 over a weekly magazine report that she accepted money in an influence-peddling allegation, saying she is facing a court case over the issue.

Katayama, the only female minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet, has been accused in a Shukan Bunshun magazine article of contacting the National Tax Agency after her secretary accepted 1 million yen from a company operator in return for promising to lobby for tax breaks in 2015.

"The first hearing of the trial is scheduled for Dec. 3, and the whole picture of the case will come clear then," Katayama said during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Nov. 1.

At the same time, the minister denied that she accepted 1 million yen or influenced tax authorities as reported by the magazine. "I'm in the process of thoroughly confirming the facts. There are many parts (in the magazine report) that are factually inaccurate," she emphasized. Although Katayama acknowledged that she did meet the company operator, she refused to clarify the date of their meeting, saying it concerns her lawsuit filed against the magazine's publisher.

Furthermore, Katayama denied that the private secretary cited in the article was her secretary, saying that the person didn't have a contract or receive a salary. When pressed over the definition of a private secretary, she failed to give a clear answer, replying that was a matter decided by an attorney leading the lawsuit.

Soon after Katayama joined the fourth Abe Cabinet in early October, she became embroiled in a number of scandals reported by several weekly magazines. "This is going to turn into a 'Katayama theater.' There will naturally be heated arguments," Wataru Takeshita, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s General Council, warned on Nov. 1.

Prior to the budget panel session, Katayama expressed her misgivings about weathering the opposition's onslaught, asking a senior LDP official, "Will I be OK?" But during a panel question-and-answer session, she confidently stated, "I will faithfully fulfill my responsibility." After the session was over, she was asked by reporters if she had sufficiently explained the scandal and responded with a smile, "I answered many questions."

Opposition parties are watching for every opportunity to grill Katayama, with Hiranao Honda of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) saying, "Statements made in the Diet carry heavy weight. We will continue to pursue her (over the allegation)."

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Taro Aso faced fierce opposition attacks over a document tampering scandal at the ministry connected with the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot to Moritomo Gakuen school operator.

"Do you think you are the right person in the right place?" CDP acting leader Akira Nagatsuma asked Aso, referring to Prime Minister Abe's controversial reappointment of Aso as finance minister. Aso replied, "I'm not overestimating myself to the point of believing I can judge my own ability. I will need to wait for historians in the future to make that judgment."

With regard to a recent media interview with retired Finance Ministry employees who heavily criticized his retention, the finance minister said, "I don't comment on every single remark made by retired officials." He then reiterated his often-repeated phrase, "I would like to fulfill my responsibility by doing my utmost in reforming the Finance Ministry."

(Japanese original by Naoki Oita and Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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