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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 03:39 GMT 04:39 UK
Japan resignation adds to PM woes
Japan's Agriculture Minister Takehiko Endo
Mr Endo has only been in office for a week
Japan's Agriculture Minister Takehiko Endo has resigned only a week after being appointed, in a fresh blow for embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

On Saturday, Mr Endo admitted that a private farm group he heads was involved in illegal dealings.

He said the group had been paid 1.15m Yen ($9,900) by the state after overstating crop damage in 1999.

He will be replaced by Masatoshi Wakabayashi, who becomes Japan's fourth agriculture minister in four months.

Mr Endo submitted his resignation to Mr Abe early on Monday, and the prime minister accepted it.

"I apologise. The series of scandals has added to the people's distrust," he said as he stood down.

'Extensive screening'

His resignation is more embarrassment for Mr Abe, who has been reeling since a crushing defeat in Upper House elections in July.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (file image)
Mr Abe aims to win back voters' trust with a strong cabinet

The result was partly blamed on a series of scandals that had engulfed several of his ministers.

Last week the prime minister reshuffled his Cabinet, bringing back veteran lawmakers in a bid to restore confidence in his government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano said that the government had screened candidates carefully.

"The screening system this time was the most extensive in post-war Japanese history. We checked all the documents that we could obtain," he said.

"But we can't know everything."

Troubled ministry

Mr Endo admitted that his farming group - in his constituency in the northern Japan - had collected the government money after exaggerating weather damage done to the grape harvest in 1999.

"It was a serious misconduct," Mr Endo told reporters on Saturday.

He said he did not tell Mr Abe about the issue when he was offered the ministerial post last Monday.

"I didn't think the case would cause trouble," he said.

Mr Endo's farming group has yet to return the money to state coffers, reports in the Japanese media say.

Mr Endo is the third agricultural minister to be hit by a scandal in recent months.

His predecessor, Norihiko Akagi, stepped down in August over an accounting row in his office.

The previous incumbent, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, committed suicide in May over claims he had links to a political funding scandal.

Mr Wakabayashi, the new appointment, is a former environment minister.

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