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Scandal puts Aso revival at risk

PROSECUTORS have questioned the brother of Japan's trade minister as a funding scandal threatens to spread to the ruling party in a blow to struggling Prime Minister Taro Aso ahead of an election.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa is already under fire from voters after a key aide was arrested in the scandal, clouding the outlook for the election, which his party had looked poised to win.

The opposition's woes have boosted Aso's low ratings, raising the prospect of him going to the polls in May ?? five months ahead of an October deadline.

But entanglement in the scandal by his long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party could scuttle such plans, leaving Japan in the grip of a political deadlock for many more months.

Ozawa's aide was arrested last month and charged with accepting illegal donations from the construction company at the heart of the scandal.

Kyodo news agency said that Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai's brother was questioned after prosecutors suspected that the same construction company had paid office rent for a group of Nikai's supporters under a false name.

The brother has denied the allegation, Kyodo said. Nikai, who also heads Japan's energy policy, has also denied wrongdoing.

A spokesman for the Tokyo prosecutors office said he was unable to comment on the report.


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