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Japanese Economy Minister Amari quits over graft claim

Japan's economy minister has stood down after a corruption allegation that dealt a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government. Akira Amari was accused of receiving bribes, but has denied he pocketed any cash.

Amari admitted on Thursday that an envelope full of cash had arrived at his office, but said he had ordered it to be dealt with according to official party donation rules. He denied the allegation that he had taken the money.

"If that was true, it would have degraded my dignity not only as a politician but also as a person - I wouldn't possibly do it," the 66-year-old, fighting back tears, told a televised news conference.

However, Amari admitted that some 3 million yen (23,150 euros, $25,250) had gone missing because of mishaps involving his secretaries. Amari said he would take responsibility as their supervisor.

While asserting his legal innocence, Amari said the claims posed a distraction as the government sought to pursue its "Abenomics" growth plan.

"The economy is now on the verge of getting out of deflation after 15 years," Amari said. "We need to enact a package of bills as quickly as we can to bring about a strong economy, and we need to avoid any obstacles to that - I will not be an exception."

A sugary sweetener?

Japan Dessert Yokan

Expensive Yokan sweets were said to have been part of a bribe package

The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun printed claims that Amari and two of his secretaries received a total of 12 million yen in cash from a firm. The company had a number of disputes with the government-backed Urban Renaissance Agency and was alleged to have hopes for favors from the ministry.

Shukan Bunshun said that on one occasion in November 2013, a company employee had met with Amari in person and handed him an envelope containing 500,000 yen in cash and a Japanese sweet, commonly given as a gift, called "yokan."

Amari said on Thursday that he did not know what was inside the bag, but that it was "very heavy."

Allegations of graft are not rare in Japanese politics, with two female ministers resigning in 2014 over allegations they had attempted to buy votes. Farm minister Koya Nishikawa stood down last year after he was accused of accepting illegal political funds.

Although the outlook for the Japanese economy is relatively positive, the country recently

slid back into recession.

Critics of Abenomics insist that the policies, which have included

a recent stimulus package,

lack substance and are built on flimsy foundations.

Abe has hinted he might call elections with the aim of

achieving a supermajority

that might help him make changes to the constitution.

rc/jil (AP, AFP, dpa)

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