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Japan's yakuza-linked justice minister quits

24 october 2012, 11:47
Japan's justice minister, who has admitted past links with organised crime, resigned Tuesday just three weeks into the job, citing "health problems", AFP reports citing the government.

Keishu Tanaka was brought into the cabinet at the start of the month as part of a reshuffle aimed at shoring up Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's shaky administration.

But a little over a week later he was forced to admit a yakuza connection after a tabloid magazine revealed he had once acted as matchmaker for a senior mobster.

Tanaka, whose ministry oversees the work of the courts, apologised but repeatedly insisted he would not be stepping down.

However, Noda on Tuesday "accepted his letter of resignation, although it was disappointing", said top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura at a news conference.

He added: "We cannot do anything about him (Tanaka) resigning due to health problems."

Tanaka checked in to a hospital last Friday as pressure mounted for him to step aside. He emerged on Monday night.

Resignations on health grounds are reasonably common in the upper echelons of Japanese politics. Newly-elected opposition leader Shinzo Abe stepped down from his short stint as prime minister in 2007 citing a bowel complaint in the wake of a disastrous electoral showing.

Local media were largely sceptical over the explanation for Tanaka's departure, with many reporting the 74-year-old had eventually caved in to pressure from lawmakers on both sides.

The yakuza are not illegal in Japan but, like Italy's mafia or China's triads, are involved in a range of illicit activities including drug dealing, prostitution, loan sharking and construction corruption.

Tanaka's resignation, while not terminal, is a blow to Noda, who is already faced with a shrinking majority and an opposition threatening to block a vital bond issuance bill.

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