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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 16:57 GMT
Scandal-hit Japanese politician testifies
Muneo Suzuki, during his sworn testimony to parliament
Mr Suzuki says he always meant to obey the law
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By Charles Scanlon
BBC Tokyo Correspondent
line
Calls are growing for the resignation of a senior Japanese politician who is alleged to have wielded huge influence behind the scenes over Japanese foreign policy.

Muneo Suzuki denied in sworn testimony before parliament that he had rigged bids for overseas construction projects.

But his evidence was condemned as evasive and dishonest.

The scandal is having a damaging impact on the administration of Junichiro Koizumi.

Revelations in recent weeks have shone a spotlight on the murky dealings between Japanese politicians and bureaucrats.

Mr Suzuki, a backbench MP with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is alleged to have served as a virtual shadow foreign minister.

A power-broker in the party's largest faction, he is said to have used his influence to decide overseas development projects, and even the accreditation of diplomats.

In his sworn testimony he denied a specific charge - that he rigged bidding so a construction company in his own constituency could build facilities on a Russian-held island that is claimed by Japan.

Political row

One opposition politician described the account as "a pack of lies", and others demanded he resign from parliament.

The scandal erupted at the end of January, when Mr Suzuki ordered the exclusion of two Japanese non-governmental organisations from a conference in Tokyo on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. That led to a furious row with the hugely popular foreign minister Makiko Tanaka.

Mr Koizumi, intervened by dismissing both Mrs Tanaka and the ministry's top bureaucrat. As a result, Mr Koizumi's sky-high popularity has been in sharp decline.

He came to office last year promising to sweep away old-style collusion between businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats. But the foreign ministry scandals have convinced many Japanese that nothing has changed.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Koizumi's honeymoon ends
01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Cabinet blow for Koizumi
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi steps into foreign ministry
29 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Axe falls on Japanese foreign minister
26 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial foreign minister
30 Jan 02 | Media reports
Japanese papers see trouble for PM
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