Melons

Japanese Economy and Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara has been forced to resign after being accused of bribing voters in his district with seafood and fruit.

“I feel deeply ashamed of myself to resign in the middle of the tenure amid many pending issues. I apologize,” the politician said on Friday after he announced that he would be stepping down.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepted Sugawara’s resignation, saying “the responsibility lies with me for having appointed him.”

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Japan’s strict election laws ban officials from offering gifts and donations to their constituents. Tabloids Shukan Bunshun and Maichini Shimbun reported that Sugawara’s office sent seafood and fruit to the voters at least 239 times in the 2000s. The gifts included melons, crab, mandarin oranges, cod roe and salmon roe.

Minister Isshu Sugawara

Shukan Bunshun also published a photo allegedly showing Sugawara’s secretary giving an envelope of 20,000 yen ($180) in condolence money to the family of his deceased supporter. The politician’s office also sent funeral flowers – typically white orchards – to the families in his district.

Sugawara did not admit to violating the election law and said that he resigned to prevent the scandal from damaging the government.

A similar scandal broke out in 2014, when Justice Minister Midori Matsushima was forced to resign after the media called her out for distributing paper fans with her name on them to voters at a festival. One of Sugawara’s predecessors as economy and trade minister, Yuko Obuchi, also resigned the same year following allegations of violating campaign finance laws.