TOKYO: Japan’s hawkish defense minister resigned Friday over a long-brewing scandal involving the handling of military documents, in a major political blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe, who has seen his popularity plummet in recent weeks over controversies including claims he showed favoritism to a friend in a business deal, immediately apologized to the nation over the saga.
“I feel a keen responsibility,” Tomomi Inada told a press conference where she announced her resignation. She called the results of an internal ministry probe which found that some officials had acted inappropriately “extremely regrettable.”
She also said she would return a month’s salary, despite the probe finding she had not been directly involved in the affair.
The chief of staff of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, the army, also resigned, as did the top ranking civil servant in the defense ministry.
Abe said that Fumio Kishida, the foreign minister, will also serve as interim defense chief until a replacement for Inada is named.
The shakeup in the top echelon of Japan’s defense establishment comes as the country remains on alert over possible further North Korean missile launches.
Inada, a close confidante of Abe who shares his staunchly nationalist views, was appointed defense minister in August 2016, a time when she was touted as a possible future leader.
But her nearly year-long stint has been characterized by repeated controversy, including criticism of the ministry’s handling of log reports filed by Japanese peacekeepers in South Sudan showing worsening security.
The troops, part of a United Nations mission, returned to Japan in May after five years.
Abe, who became prime minister for a second time in December 2012 with a vow to rejuvenate Japan’s economy, has been hit by scandals and gaffes involving members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).