[TOKYO] Japan's Economy Minister Akira Amari is expected to hold a news conference on Thursday to offer an explanation over accusations he had taken bribes, a top government spokesman said, suggesting a decision on whether he will stay on at the post is imminent.
Mr Amari, a core member of premier Shinzo Abe's economic policy team, is under fire over a media report that he and his aides had accepted money from a construction company in exchange for helping the firm receive compensation for disputes over land ownership and waste removal at a public works site.
Mr Amari said last week he has done nothing illegal and that he was told by Abe to fulfil his duty as minister. But it is uncertain whether he will stay on, as opposition parties step up calls for him to resign, some analysts say.
"My understanding is that (Amari will offer an explanation) on Jan 28," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Tuesday.
Mr Amari played a central role in negotiating the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, and has been the point-person overseeing the growth strategies that make up Mr Abe's "Abenomics" stimulus policies.
Any political funding scandal with potential criminal implications has potential to complicate Mr Abe's economic agenda at a time of global financial market turmoil, and could destabilise the cabinet ahead of a national election later this year.
"Overseas investors are already questioning the effects of Abenomics. If Amari is forced to step down, that could be seen as symbolic," said Ayako Sera, market strategist at Sumitomo Trust and Banking. "His resignation could be seen as causing further delays in growth strategy and reforms ... and could push down Tokyo stocks," she said.