Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi submitted his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has delayed his departure for three upcoming summits in Southeast Asia to fire and replace his justice minister, who has come under fire for an offhand comment he made about passing the death penalty.
Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi told reporters on Friday that he had tendered his resignation to Kishida, two days after he commented at a party meeting that his low-key work only appeared on the midday news when he used his seal. “hanko” to approve death sentences in the morning.
The comment quickly drew criticism from the opposition, as well as within Kishida’s ruling party, which is already mired in controversy over its decades-long ties to the Unification Church, a South Korea-based religious group accused in Japan of improperly recruiting and convincing adherents to make large financial donations.
At least two other members of Kishida’s scandal-prone cabinet also face accusations of accounting irregularities.
“I carelessly used the term death penalty as an example,” which had made people and ministry officials “uncomfortable,” Hanashi said.
“I decided to resign to express my apologies to the people and my determination to restart my political career.”
Hanashi said that he had consulted with Kishida for the past two days about his possible resignation and was advised to do his best to apologize and explain his insensitive comments.
“I apologize and retract my comment which was met with media reports that created the impression that I was taking my responsibility lightly,” he said Thursday.
He made another apology earlier on Friday and denied any intention to resign. But media reports later revealed that she had made similar comments at other meetings over the past three months.
Japan has faced international criticism for continuing to use capital punishment.
Kishida, who has a reputation for being indecisive, denied taking Hanashi’s comments lightly. He later told reporters that he accepted Hanashi’s resignation because his “careless comment” had damaged public confidence in the justice system.
Kishida said he named former Agriculture Minister Ken Saito, a Harvard-educated former Commerce Ministry bureaucrat, as Hanashi’s replacement.
The scandal forced Kishida to delay his departure for a nine-day trip to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia, the Group of 20 meetings on the Indonesian island of Bali and the Cooperation Asia Pacific Economic (APEC). ) forum in Bangkok.
Hanashi, a member of Kishida’s own faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was in office for just three months and is the second minister to be sacked since the prime minister reshuffled his cabinet in August in a failed attempt to reverse the fall of the popularity of his government.
Last month, Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned as finance minister after facing criticism for failing to explain his ties to the Unification Church.
The ruling party’s ties to the Unification Church emerged after the July assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ties to the church go back to Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who supported the religious group’s anti-communist stance and helped it put down roots in Japan.
A police investigation into Abe’s murder has also shed light on issues affecting family members of church followers, including poverty and neglect. Investigators said Tetsuya Yamagami, accused of fatally shooting Abe on July 8, had initially wanted to kill the leader of the Unification Church, which he blamed for his family’s financial ruin.
Yamagami’s mother, a devout follower, had reportedly donated some 100 million yen ($720,461) to the church and bankrupted her family.
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