By Stanley White and Leika Kihara
Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari has resigned over a political funding scandal that has rocked the Abe government, but denies having taken bribes.
At a news conference, Amari acknowledged taking money from a construction company executive but said he told his aides to correctly record them as a political donation.
While asserting his legal innocence, Amari, a key player in Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy team, said he was stepping down to prevent the scandal from being a distraction to his administration's drive to pull the country out of deflation.
"Japan is finally emerging from deflation," he said.
"We need to pass legislation through parliament for steps to beat deflation and create a strong economy as soon as possible.
"Anything that hampers this must be eliminated, and I'm no exception. I, therefore, would like to resign as minister to take responsibility" for what he said his aides had done.
Part of the money has gone missing because of mishaps by his secretaries, Amari said, but two of them have resigned and he must take responsibility as their supervisor.
Last week, Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun published an article accusing Amari and his aides of accepting money from an unnamed construction company in exchange for helping that firm receive government compensation for disputes over land ownership and waste removal at a public works site.
Amari is a close ally of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and core member of his policy team. He has played a leading role in the prime minister's economic policies, and led Japan's negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.