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Prominent Japanese lawmaker arrested

Lawmaker Muneo Suzuki, surrounded by Diet guards, leaves parliament after explaining his alleged bribe
Lawmaker Muneo Suzuki, surrounded by Diet guards, leaves parliament after explaining his alleged bribe  

Staff and wires

TOKYO, Japan -- A prominent Japanese lawmaker has been arrested for alleged bribe-taking, but says he has done nothing wrong.

Former ruling party heavyweight Muneo Suzuki, 54, was taken into custody just hours after the Japenese government approved an arrest warrant, a legal requirement for nabbing a lawmaker while parliament is in session.

They believe Suzuki received five million yen ($40,230) from a lumber firm in 1998 in exchange for helping it enjoy favorable treatment from the forestry agency.

Suzuki belonged to a powerful faction in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's party and has so far resisted pressure to resign his parliamentary seat.

The scandal marks another setback for Koizumi, who is trying to convince a skeptical public he is delivering on reforms and doing away with backroom deals.

But in recent months, his party has been hit by scandals as well as the departure of senior lawmakers, delaying the passage of key legislation and eating away at Koizumi's popularity.

This leaves the PM vulnerable to attacks from anti-reformers inside his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

"It is truly disappointing that an incumbent parliamentarian was arrested," Koizumi told reporters.

"Parliamentarians should think of ways to be trusted."


A spate of scandals has affected Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ability to pass key legislation  

A symbol of the LDP's money politics, Suzuki was forced to quit the LDP in March over a string of alleged misdeeds, including intervening in public works contracts in return for political donations.

Japanese television showed Suzuki, who had denied all charges and said he is the target of a witch-hunt by prosecutors more intent on arresting him than clarifying facts, being led from his home by prosecutors, jostling their way through a mob of reporters.

The Lower House of parliament was expected to vote on a resolution urging Suzuki to resign from parliament this week.

Following the Suzuki arrest, newspapers across the country called on politicians to clean up their act while the opposition camp seized the opportunity to turn up the heat on Koizumi's party.

"Suzuki is not the end of the problem. There are many others like him in parliament and the LDP," Reuters news agency cited Yukio Hatoyaha, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, as saying.

"To wipe out corruption is the only way to rescue this country."


In April, Koichi Kato resigned in connection with a scandal involving an aide  

Koizumi swept to power in April 2001 pledging to clean up the pro-business LDP and push through economic reforms.

Approval ratings for Koizumi is just half of the all-time high of 80 percent when he first took office.

The spate of scandals has deepened in recent months, forcing the extension of the current parliamentary session by 42 days.

A dispute with China over North Korean asylum seekers has also derailed debate, as did uproar over remarks by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda that suggested Japan could revise its ban on nuclear weapons.

In April, Koichi Kato -- a leading LDP lawmaker and long-time Koizumi ally -- was forced to resign in connection with a scandal involving an aide.

Upper House Speaker Yutaka Inoue quit in May for similar reasons.

Opposition lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto quit in March after admitting she misused public funds intended for an aide's salary.




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