Mr Abe’s effort to promote female empowerment has been damaged by revelations that ministerial staff spent political funds in a bar where patrons can pay to whip women

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, faces more pressure after his trade minister admitted taking inappropriate donations from a foreign-owned company just days after the revelation that the minister’s staff spent political funds in a bondage bar.

Yoichi Miyazawa, the nephew of former prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa, last week replaced Yuko Obuchi– the daughter of former prime minister Keizo Obuchi who herself has been touted as a future leader – after she quit over unrelated scandals.

The resignations and revelations threaten to tarnish Mr Abe, whose previous tenure as prime minister was partly derailed in 2007 by scandals and gaffes by ministers.

Ms Obuchi and Midori Matsushima, the justice minister who resigned last week over a different scandal, were among five female ministers whom Mr Abe brought into his cabinet in an effort to promote “Womenomics” to boost the economy.

On Monday, Mr Miyazawa revealed that a chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic party that he had headed in Hiroshima prefecture had received Y400,000 ($3,711) several years ago from a company that was majority owned by non-Japanese. The Asahi newspaper said that the donor was a pachinko – a kind of pinball – company.

Japanese law forbids lawmakers from receiving donations from companies where more than 50 per cent of the shareholders are foreign – a similar measure to rules in the US aimed at limiting outside influence on domestic policy.

In 2011, Seiji Maehara, then foreign minister and a Democratic party star, resigned after it emerged that he had received Y50,000 from a South Korean resident in Japan.

Mr Miyazawa said he had not known that the company had foreign shareholders and added that he had returned the cash. Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, on Monday said Mr Miyazawa had handed the matter appropriately.

Immediately after replacing Ms Obuchi as head of the ministry for economy, trade and industry (Meti) last week, Mr Miyazawa came under fire following news that his staff had spent Y18,230 in an S&M bar where patrons pay for the privilege of whipping women.

Mr Miyazawa tried to distance himself from the revelation by saying that he had not attended the bar and that such behaviour was “inappropriate”. But the news was embarrassing for Mr Abe who has been making speeches in Japan and overseas about his plans to improve the position of women in society and the workplace.

A recent poll conducted by the Yomiuri, Japan’s biggest daily newspaper, found that support for Mr Abe had fallen from 62 per cent over the past month to 53 per cent, partly because of the cabinet scandals.

Mr Miyazawa has also been criticised for failing to divest his shareholding in Tokyo Electric, the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which is the common practice when ministers are appointed.

As head of Meti, Mr Miyazawa will play a crucial part in the push to restart the nuclear reactors that have remained closed since the catastrophic tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis in 2011. He has vowed to place the 600 shares, which are currently worth about $2,200, in a trust.

Twitter: @AsiaNewsDemetri

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