Just one week before President Obama and leaders of the 11 other nations that are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were supposed to sign the agreement, Japan’s lead negotiator for the deal resigned abruptly amid bribery allegations.
Akira Amari, Japan’s Economy Minister announced his resignation at a press conference in Tokyo Thursday and admitted to receiving money that may have been mishandled but denied personally receiving bribes.
Last week, a Japanese magazine published an article claiming Amari and his aides accepted money from a construction company in exchange for government compensation for land ownership disputes.
Amari said he did receive the money, which he told his staff to deem a political donation, and maintains his legal innocence. According to the now former Economy Minister, he resigned to keep the scandal from hampering Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth plan for getting the country out of deflation (dubbed Abenomics) and not an admittance to any guilt regarding the TPP negotiations.
The public has since rallied on the news and more than 10,000 people signed a petition launched by digital rights non profit Fight for the Future (which has been fiercely opposed to the TPP deal), demanding an investigation into the claims and asking President Obama and the other member country leaders not to sign the agreement next week.
“Signing the TPP while there are serious allegations of corruption concerning one of its top negotiators would be reckless and anti-democratic. Do not sign the TPP. We demand a full investigation into these bribery charges and a review of all officials involved in TPP negotiations,” the petition reads.
The allegation will not only raise questions about Japan’s economic policies under Prime Minister Abe as Amari has been credited as being the “architect of Abenomics,” as the BBC put it, but it could call TPP into question.
“This is possibly the biggest scandal the Abe administration has faced,” BBC’s Mariko Oi said. Amari’s resignation marks the fourth member of Abe’s cabinet to step down over bribery allegations. “It may also raise further opposition within Japan to the TPP,” Oi added.
Amari, who was promptly replaced by Nobuteru Ishihara, Japan’s former environment minister, said part of the money went missing because of mishaps by his aides.
There is no telling yet how the bribery allegations will affect the signing of the TPP, which is scheduled for Feb. 4 in New Zealand, but the news likely won’t be taken lightly.
“It is a serious development and could impact Japan’s delicate political balance on TPP,” said Mara Burr, executive vice president for World Strategies LLC and former deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative for South and Central Asian Affairs. “The Minister of Economy was Japan’s lead negotiator on TPP and any involvement in a corruption scandal could open new questions about Japan’s priorities and successes in closing the TPP negotiations. Hopefully the Abe Administration can move past this quickly and separate the corruption scandal from TPP.”