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LEAD: Abe tells Sata to look into false fund reports in another blow to PM.

TOKYO, Dec. 26 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDING SATA'S COMMENTS, RULING, OPPOSITION PARTY REACTIONS)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, beset by yet another scandal involving a key player in his administration, said Tuesday he has instructed administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata to investigate allegations that his defunct support group submitted false political fund reports.

''We as politicians must straighten up and handle political funds properly,'' Abe told reporters in the evening. ''Anyhow, Minister Sata must first investigate and confirm the facts so that he can explain to the public.''

Opposition parties reacted sharply to the allegations, urging Sata to resign if they are true and vowing to pursue the case at a regular parliamentary session next year that starts in January.

Also hinting at the possibility that the case may lead to Sata's resignation, an executive member of the ruling coalition parties also expressed concern and said Sata may have to resign because it could develop into a criminal case if the support group actually made false reports.

''It's not a matter of taking until the regular Diet session (to investigate). He should be able to decide on what to do in one or two days if the facts come to be known,'' the executive said.

The latest issue is a body blow for Abe on the day he marked three months in office. He is already under pressure to win back public confidence following several recent cases of misconduct involving members of his administration.

The premier appeared visibly agitated when reporters pressed him on when the investigations will be completed and questioned his campaign of reforming education to set the norms for a ''beautiful nation'' when his own officials are breaking the rules.

''I would first like to hear directly the minister's report. Of course, I don't think it will take very long,'' the premier insisted.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Sata said, ''I don't know about it and I'm having my local people look into the case.''

Sata said he will investigate ''as quickly as possible'' and hold a press conference to report the findings as soon as he gets them.

But he refused to comment when asked about his political responsibility.

The firms managing the two buildings in which Sata's group had claimed to have offices confirmed to Kyodo News and other media that they had not signed office leasing contracts with Sata's group. Instead, both buildings housed a Tokyo branch of a construction company run by Sata's father.

The political fund reports to the government showed that the defunct support group claimed nearly 80 million yen in office maintenance expenses from 1990 to 2000 for the fictitious office. If the falsification is found to be true, the 54-year-old state minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reforms could face possible criminal charges.

The scandal involving Sata comes on the heels of the resignation of government tax panel chief Masaaki Homma, who reportedly lived with a woman other than his wife in a luxurious government apartment at a very low rent. But Abe bluntly dismissed any link between the two recent scandals, saying they are ''completely different stories.''

Regarding Homma's resignation, Abe told reporters that he has tapped Yutaka Kosai, senior adviser at the Japan Center for Economic Research, to be the new chairman of the Tax Commission.

Earlier on Tuesday, Abe described 2006 as ''a year of great changes'' since he shouldered the duties of prime minister in late September. He vowed to continue to do his best to realize his campaign pledges but stopped short of commenting on his own responsibility for having appointed both Sata
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:599
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