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Niigata governor tenders resignation amid sex scandal

Ryuichi Yoneyama
Ryuichi Yoneyama (Twitter)

NIIGATA (TR) – Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama on Wednesday announced his resignation prior to the release of a report alleging that he paid a female college student in exchange for sex. The move is expected to impact the restart of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear reactors in the prefecture, local media reported.

The April 26 issue of weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, which hit newsstands on Thursday, claims that Yoneyama met multiple women via dating site Happy Mail. Following his taking office in October of 2016, he maintained a relationship with one of them, a 22-year-old college student whom he paid her money and presents in exchange for illicit meetings.

Through December of that year, Yoneyama met her twice in Tokyo at a residence. He paid her around 30,000 yen per encounter, according to the article.

In admitting to the allegations at a press conference, Yoneyama apologized for his actions. With the magazine using the phrase enjo kosai, or compensated dating, he acknowledged that the relationship “might appear to be prostitution.”

However, he also said that he felt “feelings of love” for the woman. “I thought I was in a relationship,” he said.

Opposed restarting reactors

In 2016, Yoneyama won the Niigata gubernatorial election with the support of the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. During the election, he opposed restarting reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in opposition to rivals supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

The seven reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa are similar to those at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which suffered a meltdown in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011.

Following the earthquake, the reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were taken offline. With TEPCO and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe eager to restart the reactors, the issue will be featured prominently in the gubernatorial election to pick a successor to Yoneyama, which will likely be held in June.