Japan's toughest politician makes a tearful exit from public life

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The Independent Online
Weeks of scandal and political feuding reached a climax yesterday when Japan's most loathed politician resigned from his party, weeping openly and insisting he had done nothing wrong.</p>In images that were played over and over again on Japanese television, Muneo Suzuki, a man notorious for his bullying toughness, broke down as he announced his resignation from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.</p>"I deeply apologise for causing many suspicions among the Japanese people," he sobbed, "I feel I have done nothing wrong in my political career."</p>Mr Suzuki's resignation is a boon for Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's Prime Minister and LDP leader, whose image as an honest, reforming statesman was becoming dangerously compromised by the revelations about his party colleague.</p>All year, ordinary Japanese have watched with appalled fascination as Mr Suzuki took on â“ and defeated â“ the country's popular female foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, and clung on defiantly despite mounting evidence of impropriety and even criminal offences. Few people will be convinced by yesterday's display of tearful contrition, and the focus will shift to the potential for criminal investigation of the disgraced politician.</p>Allegations by party members and civil servants suggest that Mr Suzuki had been abusing his position as an MP and chairman of a parliamentary committee for years, although none of the claims has yet been tested in court.</p>A ministry investigation found he had demanded diplomats frame the tendering of construction projects in such a way that only companies from his own constituency were eligible to apply. He was accused of interfering in construction projects in Kenya and in Russian islands off Japan.</p>The latest revelation is that, on a boat returning from one of the Russian islands, Mr Suzuki slapped and kicked a diplomat who had defied him.</p>Of Mr Suzuki's his tear-filled performance on television, the construction minister Chikage Ogi would only say: "I think tears are little treasures. They're like jewels." Whether Mr Suzuki has minted enough to buy his way out of worse trouble remains to be seen. </p>