TOKYO – A scandal-tainted Cabinet member who headed Japan’s powerful agriculture ministry hanged himself just hours before he faced questioning Monday over alleged bookkeeping fraud.
The death of Toshikatsu Matsuoka dealt another blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ailing government at a critical time before the leader’s first big test at the polls in July.
An autopsy on Matsuoka, 62, showed he had hanged himself, according to a Tokyo Metropolitan Police official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy. Matsuoka was found unconscious in his apartment shortly after noon on Monday and declared dead hours later. He became the first serving Cabinet member to kill himself since World War II.
Local media reports said Matsuoka hanged himself in his pajamas with a rope resembling a dog leash and had left multiple suicide notes, including ones addressed to Abe and the public, apologizing for his actions.
“I apologize for having created troubles. There is no excuse for my own ignorance and lack of virtue,” the Yomiuri newspaper quoted one of the notes as saying today.
Matsuoka was criticized over a scandal involving suspicious bookkeeping practices. He allegedly claimed more than $236,000 in utility fees even though he rented a parliamentary office where utility costs are free. He also faced separate scandals related to bid-rigging and political contributions, triggering calls for his resignation even from within his own party.