Japan PM looks to ‘restore trust’ amid fundraising scandal

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday he would take steps to restore trust in his government amid a fundraising scandal, but declined to confirm a media report that he was set to replace four ministers in his cabinet.

Allegations over unreported funds have posed the biggest political challenge to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since it took back power in 2012, rattling the foundation of the current administration.

Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, Kishida said he is aware of the seriousness of the situation.

“We’ll consider appropriate measures at the right time to restore public trust and prevent delays in national politics,” Kishida said.

The Asahi newspaper reported late on Sunday that Kishida has decided to replace four ministers and 11 other ministerial positions in his cabinet as a scandal over alleged undisclosed funding has fuelled public disapproval.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Internal Affairs Minister Junji Suzuki and Agriculture Minister Ichiro Miyashita are among those to be replaced, which also included deputies and parliamentary secretaries, Asahi reported.

During a briefing on Monday, Matsuno, who is the top government spokesperson, also did not elaborate on the media report, largely repeating his previous remarks that an investigation was underway and he would take appropriate actions.

“I intend to fulfil the responsibilities of duties I have been given,” Matsuno told reporters.

Nishimura on Sunday said he would stay in the post and review his fundraising proceeds after media reports of an imminent cabinet reshuffle over allegations about unreported funds.

The 15 officials to be sacked belong to the LDP’s biggest “Abe faction”, which prosecutors have investigated for allegedly hiding hundreds of millions of yen of political funds over five years.

The LDP – which has held power for nearly all of Japan’s post-war era – is due to hold leadership elections in September with a general election due by October 2025 at the latest.

The scandal could stir up a power struggle inside the party that could influence the outcome of the leadership contest and the party’s management.

Kishida is set to hold a press conference on Wednesday at the end of the current parliament session to explain his administration’s responses, Asahi said.

Kishida’s cabinet approval ratings were hovering below 30% even before the fundraising scandal, a record low in his premiership since October 2021, reflecting voter worries over rising living costs and looming tax hikes.

(Reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by Sonali Paul)