Shamed Japanese ex-minister found dead

Suicide ruled out as cause of death of elite politician who fought with alcoholism
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Japan's former finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa, who was ridiculed across the world earlier this year when he appeared drunk and incoherent at a G7 meeting, has been found dead in his Tokyo home.

Mr Nakagawa was discovered facedown on his bed yesterday morning. Although the veteran Liberal Democratic (LDP) politician was known to be depressed and taking sleeping pills, police have said suicide was "unlikely".

His death at the age of 56 has stunned a party still reeling from being dumped from office after ruling for 54 of the past 55 years. "I am so deeply shocked that I have no words," said the former prime minister Taro Aso, one of Mr Nakagawa's closest political allies and the man who insisted on his becoming Finance minister despite his well-known personal problems.

A member of parliament for a quarter of a century, Mr Nakagawa was humiliated during Japan's August general election when he became one of the biggest LDP scalps claimed by the triumphant Democrats (DPJ). The loss of his seat in the northern district of Hokkaido effectively destroyed a family power base built up by his politician father Ichiro, who killed himself in 1983. Political commentators interpreted the defeat as electoral punishment for a widely-mocked performance at a February meeting of finance ministers in Rome. Mr Nakagawa was caught on TV slurring, yawning, nodding off and failing to understand reporters' questions just as the world was struggling to deal with its worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

At home, his confused features came to stand for the crumbling edifice of the terminally ill LDP – and the political failure of Mr Aso, who had appointed him. Mr Nakagawa initially blamed a cold remedy for his grogginess but stepped down soon afterwards, saying it "would be better for the country if I quit". His resignation – and his promise to stop drinking – failed to save his career or the LDP from its biggest drubbing since 1955.

Despite the loss of his seat, many colleagues expected Mr Nakagawa, who was once tipped to become prime minister, to stage a comeback and help pull his party back from the political abyss.

"He had good policymaking abilities, and he would have played an important part in Japan's future political scene," said the former chief cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura. A former agriculture minister and leading LDP backroom player, Mr Nakagawa was one of the party's brightest stars when Mr Aso gave him the twin portfolios of finance and financial services. The appointment came as Japan began grappling with the enormous impact of the Lehman shock, and to the surprise of few who knew of his erratic history, he crumpled under the strain.

Police say they will conduct an autopsy on Mr Nakagawa's body to determine the exact cause of death. Local media reports say there was no evidence of a struggle in the bedroom, nor any suicide note.