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Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, who was instrumental in the city's successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics, announced his resignation Thursday over a money scandal that sparked public distrust in his leadership.
Only three months since Tokyo won the Olympic bid, Inose was forced to step down for receiving 50 million yen in cash ahead of the Tokyo gubernatorial election last December from hospital operator Tokushukai, which is mired in vote-buying allegations involving a Diet member.
While Inose's resignation has apparently tarnished Tokyo's image, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he believes the governor's resignation would not hamper preparations for the Olympic Games.
Having jointly campaigned with Inose for Tokyo's bid, Abe described the governor's resignation as "very regrettable."
Faced with growing calls from the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, the central government and even his predecessor, Shintaro Ishihara, Inose made the announcement at a press conference shortly after submitting a letter of resignation to Toshiaki Yoshino, president of the metropolitan assembly.
"I cannot bring the Tokyo metropolitan administration to a standstill anymore, nor stall preparations for the Olympics. Stepping down is the only way to break the stalemate," Inose told a packed press conference. "I offer a deep apology to people in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan."
Inose said he tried in vain to be fully accountable over the scandal, which surfaced Nov. 22, and regrets he could not allay people's doubts.
With Inose's resignation, prosecutors are now investigating the purpose for which the money was given.
Inose has said he borrowed the 50 million yen in a personal capacity and the money was not reported as election campaign funds to authorities, but if the money turns out to have been used for such purposes, it may constitute a violation of the public office election law.
Moreover, another allegation that Inose, then vice governor, was told by Tokushukai founder Torao Tokuda in November 2012 that Tokushukai intended to acquire a hospital run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. has deepened public distrust of him.
While Inose, who had power over approving the opening of hospitals as governor, has denied discussing the matter with Tokuda, assembly members grilled him about whether he had done a favor to Tokushukai in connection with the acquisition plan in exchange for the 50 million yen.
Inose could face bribery charges if it is revealed that he accepted the money in return for helping Tokushukai.
A gubernatorial election to choose Inose's successor will likely be held Feb. 9. The assembly is arranging to officially approve the governor's resignation Tuesday at an extraordinary session.
Inose was elected Tokyo governor on Dec. 16 last year and will be the shortest serving governor in the capital's history.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party headed by Abe confirmed its policy the same day of picking a candidate for the Tokyo gubernatorial race by year-end. The prime minister said the party has yet to decide on potential candidates.
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 Torao Tokuda.
Inose has said he borrowed the 50 million yen as a personal loan from Takeshi Tokuda on Nov. 20 last year, one day before announcing his candidacy in the gubernatorial race, and repaid it on Sept. 25, shortly after prosecutors raided the Tokushukai group on suspicion of election law violations.
The governor had been questioned for 20 hours over four days by an assembly committee regarding the scandal. He backtracked from his remarks several times, paving the way for the setting up of an investigative panel that would have been legally empowered to investigate his case. The panel is unlikely to be launched.
Inose said he decided to step down after consulting with Ishihara and Saburo Kawabuchi, a senior adviser to the Japan Football Association and chief campaigner for Inose in last December's election.
A Tokyo assembly member criticized Inose for resigning before clarifying the truth about the money scandal, while a senior Tokyo government official appeared relieved, saying work at the metropolitan office will get back to normal.
Inose, a 67-year-old prizewinning writer, said he expects someone well-versed in sports and capable of transforming Tokyo into a city brimming with sporting events to succeed him.
After leaving the governor's post, Inose said he hopes to "return the favor" to people in the metropolis through his activities as a writer and Tokyo resident.
Jin Matsubara, Diet affairs chief of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters that the party will look for "a candidate with planning ability" for the upcoming gubernatorial race to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a success.
Inose became Tokyo's vice governor in 2007. He ran in the gubernatorial election last December after Ishihara named him as his preferred candidate when he stepped down in October 2012 to run for a parliamentary seat.
He won around 4.33 million votes -- the largest number any candidate has ever gained in a Japanese election.
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