Tokyo Gov. Inose to announce resignation over money scandal

Embattled Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose is set to announce his resignation on Thursday over money he received from scandal-hit hospital chain Tokushukai, metropolitan assembly members and others said Wednesday.

Inose will announce at a press conference Thursday that he is quitting his post over 50 million yen in cash he got from Tokushukai, which is mired in vote buying allegations involving a Diet member, according to the assembly members.

His resignation comes amid growing pressure for him to step down not only from the metropolitan assembly but from the central government and his predecessor, former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. Inose was elected Tokyo governor Dec. 16 last year.

Inose said last month after the money scandal surfaced that he would not resign.

Ruling bloc politicians began laying groundwork for holding the Tokyo gubernatorial election in February, possibly on Feb. 9, speeding up its search for a candidate, according to a senior Liberal Democratic Party official.

The February date was selected to avoid a clash with the Jan. 19 mayoral election in Okinawa Prefecture in which the LDP is planning to throw full support behind a candidate favoring the relocation of a U.S. military base in line with the central government policy against the anti-relocation incumbent, a source at the prime minister's office said.

The politicians may also have picked February, ahead of the April increase in the consumption tax rate, as it will likely dent popularity of the governing party.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cited the need to settle the issue as soon as possible to avoid the scandal involving Inose from hampering preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an Abe aide said.

Members of the ruling bloc began to openly call for the author-turned-politician to resign after the metropolitan assembly decided to set up a special committee to investigate the 50 million yen he received ahead of the gubernatorial election last December.

"The fact that (Inose) received a large sum of money from someone who does business related to his authority is enough to warrant his resignation," LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura told reporters in Tokyo, referring to the governor's power to approve the opening of hospitals.

"If he delays his decision, Tokyo's preparations for the 2020 Olympics will be affected," Komura said, adding, "And his contribution to Tokyo's successful bid will be spoiled."

A senior member of the New Komeito party, the junior ruling coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, also told reporters Wednesday that Inose "should be clear by now" on whether he will stay on or quit his post.

Inose has said it was his personal loan and repaid in September.

Ishihara, who picked then vice-governor Inose as his successor in the December election, urged Inose during their meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday to resign promptly, saying it is impossible for him to stay on given the circumstances, sources close to them said.

Ishihara quit his post as governor in the middle of his fourth four-year term.

LDP House of Representatives member Koichi Hagiuda, who belongs to an umbrella organization of LDP chapters in Tokyo, told reporters after meeting Abe at the premier's office on Wednesday that they agreed to ensure the scandal involving Inose does not affect Tokyo's preparations to host the Olympics.

Hagiuda, a special aide to Abe in the latter's role as LDP chief, quoted Abe as saying he finds it "globally embarrassing that the central and Tokyo governments cannot discuss the Olympics" at the moment.

The Japan Olympic Committee and the Tokyo metropolitan government are requested by the International Olympic Committee to establish an organizing committee by Feb. 7.

A person close to the JOC has said that a three-way talk between the governor, JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda and Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura has not been held even once since Dec. 1.

With the gubernatorial election unlikely to be held before February, the organizing committee may have to proceed with discussions without the governor.

Inose was grilled for 20 hours over four days in the past two weeks by an assembly committee. He has backtracked from his remarks several times, triggering protests from the assembly and paving the way for the special investigative committee to be set up.

The committee, the first of its kind to investigate a Tokyo governor's conduct, is bound by the Local Autonomy Law, under which Inose or any party called to testify could be fined or charged for refusing to testify or committing perjury.

The 18-member committee is expected to be formed of members from both ruling and opposition parties.

Arrangements are already under way for the committee to hold its first session with Inose next Tuesday at the earliest.

Tokushukai, the largest Japanese operator of medical facilities, is at the center of an election violation case involving House of Representatives member Takeshi Tokuda, the son of Tokushukai founder Torao Tokuda.

It was revealed Wednesday by a source close to the matter that Inose was told in November 2012 by Torao that Tokushukai intended to acquire a hospital run by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The revelation contradicted a previous remark by Inose and is expected to raise suspicions that he made another false statement.

Earlier this month, Inose told the Tokyo assembly that he did not discuss the matter with Torao Tokuda during their meeting.

The utility, known as TEPCO, announced in October 2012 it planned to sell the hospital as part of streamlining measures after its business was heavily affected by the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Inose also said the planned sell-off of the TEPCO hospital and the 50 million yen he "borrowed" from Tokushukai were completely separate matters, and he denied helping Tokushukai or that the hospital group asked him to do a favor.

Tokushukai participated in the bidding for the TEPCO hospital in August but withdrew as soon as it faced a criminal investigation by Tokyo prosecutors over the alleged election violation.