Japan industry minister reviewing finances amid funds scandal

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s trade and industry minister said on Sunday he would stay in his post and review his political funding after media reported Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was set to sack him and other officials in a scandal over alleged undisclosed funding.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, who heads the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, told a press conference he had “not been told anything at this time, so I would like to continue fulfilling my duties”.

With his popularity sinking, Kishida was set to replace key lawmakers including Nishimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and the policy chief of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Koichi Hagiuda, the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers reported on Sunday.

The three are among the lawmakers from the LDP’s biggest faction who Japanese media say may have pocketed a total of more than 100 million yen ($700,000) in fundraising proceeds that were left off the books.

The offices of the prime minister, Matsuno and Hagiuda could not be reached for comment on Sunday. Matsuno, the top government spokesman, declined to comment at press conferences last week. Hagiuda promised an explanation after an investigation of his funding, Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday.

Tokyo prosecutors are looking to investigate lawmakers after this session of parliament ends on Wednesday, media reported. Prosecutors could not be reached over the weekend. A spokesperson said last week they could not answer questions on matters under investigation.

Public support for Kishida’s government has slid to the lowest since he took office two years ago, on issues including the LDP’s connections to a controversial religious organisation, rising costs of living, looming tax hikes and disappointment at his efforts to spur the economy.

“I am closely examining my own political financing report, and would like to provide a thorough explanation at the appropriate time,” Nishimura said.

But he said he felt a sense of responsibility and apologised for causing distrust in politics.

($1 = 144.93 yen)

(Reporting by Kevin Buckland and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and William Mallard)