Japanese finance minister resigning Hashimoto tries to salvage career

October 04, 1991|By James Sterngold | James Sterngold,New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- Ryutaro Hashimoto, an ambitious politician who served as finance minister during two exceptionally turbulent years, announced yesterday that he would resign to take responsibility for Japan's series of damaging financial scandals.

Mr. Hashimoto offered his resignation to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu but, as expected, was asked to remain in his post until after a meeting of world financial leaders that begins next week in Bangkok, Thailand. His experience over the last two years was considered important at this critical meeting, even though he would be a lame duck.

Because Mr. Hashimoto's resignation will come just two weeks before the end of Mr. Kaifu's term as prime minister and president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, it is largely a symbolic act. There would be a Cabinet reshuffle anyway.

The top economic officials of the "Group of Seven" industrialized nations are planning to discuss aid to the Soviet Union, the economic rehabilitation of Eastern Europe, and other pressing issues at the Bangkok summit. Mr. Hashimoto is expected to represent Japan at this critical meeting, then return immediately to Tokyo and formally step down.

Thus, he is likely to miss the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, at which he was expected to deliver an important address on Japan's growing economic involvement in and commitment to Asia.

At one time, the 54-year-old Mr. Hashimoto was regarded as a strong candidate for prime minister, but the financial scandals have tainted his reputation and left him struggling to salvage his once-soaring career. Indeed, the scandals have knocked him out of the current race for the prime ministership, but he may clear his name and run in the future.

Mr. Hashimoto's resignation had been expected for weeks. Nearly all the major securities firms and banks policed by the Finance Ministry have admitted to a range of unethical practices in recent months. And he was personally embarrassed when one of his closest political secretaries admitted he had helped arrange illegal bank loans for three close friends of Mr. Hashimoto.

The scandal also claimed several other victims yesterday. Most prominently, Taizo Hashida, chairman of Fuji Bank, one of the world's largest financial institutions, announced that he was resigning to take responsibility for his bank's involvement in scandals involving loan scams.

Tokai Bank and Kyowa Saitama Bank also announced resignations of top executives and punitive pay cuts for others because of their roles in the scandals.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady recently lavished warm and unusual public praise on Mr. Hashimoto for his role in the Persian Gulf war, when he prodded Japan to decide to contribute $13 billion, partly as aid to Middle Eastern countries and partly as direct assistance to the war effort. But Mr. Brady nTC was unable to save Mr. Hashimoto's job in the face of the scandals.

Mr. Hashimoto sought to resign on a positive note by waiting until yesterday morning to make his announcement after a bill toughening the securities laws had been passed.

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