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TOKYO, June 9 Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's
new government got off to a rocky start on Wednesday when a key
cabinet minister was asked about reports -- which he denied --
that a support group had misreported office expenses.
Kan is trying to rebuild voter trust ahead of an election
after taking over from unpopular Yukio Hatoyama, whose ratings
plunged in just eight months on doubts about his leadership and a
series of funding scandals.
The Mainichi and other newspapers said National Strategy
Minister Satoshi Arai's political support group had registered
the apartment of an acquaintance of Arai as its main office for
seven years, booking 43 million yen ($469,900) in office expenses
while paying no rent.
"I went over the income and expense statements and found
nothing wrong," Arai told reporters. "I also had the (Democratic)
party check them and still there were no problems."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a news
conference that the Party was looking into the reports but had so
far found nothing wrong.
Kan's efforts to distance himself from scandal-tainted power
broker Ichiro Ozawa, who resigned as ruling party No. 2 last
week, and present his new government as both clean and competent
are vital to improving the Democrats' chances at the polls.
The Democrats will stay in power regardless of the outcome of
the vote, but might have to revamp their ruling coalition if they
and a tiny partner fall short of a majority in the chamber, which
can delay legislation.
An executive of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party,
plagued by similar scandals in the past, immediately demanded
that Arai resign.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)