Scourge of Koizumi quits over cash fiddle

High-profile campaigner who exposed corruption of ruling party falls on her sword as enemies reveal indiscretions
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The Independent Online

The movement for political reform in Japan suffered a blow yesterday when one of its most outspoken campaigners was forced to resign her parliamentary seat after being implicated in a financial scandal.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), handed her resignation to the party leader Takako Doi to become the latest in a series of high-profile political casualties.

Ms Tsujimoto's demise is ironic because she had acquired a reputation as a fierce opponent of the political corruption which, in the minds of many Japanese, is associated with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Ms Tsujimoto apologised for betraying the public's trust. But, she also used her departure to put pressure on two former ruling-party MPs caught in recent scandals to quit the Diet (parliament) – contrasting her decision to abandon her seat with their choice of merely leaving the LDP.

"It's odd they kept their seats but resigned from the LDP, saying they didn't want to cause trouble to the party. I'm the opposite," she said. "I don't want to give trouble to the people."

Ms Tsujimoto first came to public prominence last May when she stood in parliament and shouted "Mr Prime Minister" 12 times in an effort to prise answers from an evasive Junichiro Koizumi. The interrogation was repeatedly shown on television news.

More recently she was instrumental in the high-profile resignation, of Muneo Suzuki, a senior LDP member, who was accused of a range of abuses.

Mr Suzuki was said to have bullied Japanese government departments into awarding contracts to firms in his constituency and to have slapped and kicked diplomats who crossed him.

When he was summoned to give an account of himself before the Diet, Ms Tsujimoto described him as "a trader in corruption"; it was her questions, above all, which convinced many Japanese that he was unfit for public office.

During a tearful television appearance, Mr Suzuki resigned from the LDP although he remains a Diet member. A few days later, another senior member of the LDP hierarchy, Koichi Jato, also resigned from the party over corruption allegations.

Ms Tsujimoto's offence was minor in comparison but, given the moral position which she had adopted, it was impossible for her to remain an MP.

She admitted receiving 10 million yen (£55,000) a year in government funds for a "political secretary", who was actually paid only 50,000 yen (£280) a month. The balance was treated as "donations" for the running of her office.

When the story first appeared in a weekly magazine, she compounded the offence by first denying any wrongdoing, and later admitting the allegations. Then she insisted that she would resign only if given the opportunity to make an account of herself in the Diet.

"I am told to die gracefully," she said, "but ... I'd rather have the Diet summon me as a sworn witness or debate a motion calling on me to resign."

The rumours in Tokyo yesterday were that 41-year old Ms Tsujimoto's accounting irregularities had been exposed and leaked by enemies in the LDP, who had become incensed at her temerity in humiliating Mr Suzuki.