Beleaguered Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Thursday refused to step down despite fresh allegations over the ministry’s institutional coverup of daily activity logs of the Ground Self-Defense Forces in war-ridden South Sudan.
Inada promised to launch a special task force to “thoroughly investigate” the scandal.
Public broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday night that the GSDF “consistently” kept digital copies of logs concerning its peacekeeping mission despite the ministry’s earlier insistence that such records had been “entirely discarded.”
The latest turn of events is a further blow to Inada, who has already drawn fierce criticism from opposition parties for her fumbling over alleged links with the principal of an Osaka-based school operator at the center of a dubious land deal. The opposition again demanded her resignation Thursday over her handling of the activity logs.
“If there is any organizational tendency toward a coverup within the Defense Ministry and the SDF that needs to be fixed, I believe it is my responsibility to thoroughly correct it,” Inada told the Lower House Committee on Security.
“I will continue to dedicate myself to my responsibility” as the defense minister, she said.
Inada added that she has ordered the launch of a special task force that will scrutinize what happened under her supervision, independent of GSDF influence. She said she will make sure the outcome of the investigation will be released as soon as possible.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a daily news conference Thursday that the systematic concealment of the logs, if true, would “significantly mar public trust” in the ministry and the SDF.
But he nonetheless emphasized that the scandal doesn’t merit Inada’s resignation, noting she displayed “strong leadership” by swiftly dictating the launch of a fresh probe.
The logs, compiled first-hand by GSDF service members from July last year, are considered a barometer to determine whether the situation in would amount to fighting. Any suggestion that it does would be politically explosive because it contradicts Japan’s conditions for deploying troops overseas, which state that a cease-fire must be in place.
Although the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced last week it will terminate the SDF’s participation in the mission at the end of May, it insisted the withdrawal has nothing to do with the country’s security situation.
The Defense Ministry originally received a disclosure request for the logs in October, only to announce in December that the records had been entirely destroyed.
In an about-face, however, the ministry admitted in February that digital copies of the documents had been retained on the computer system of the Joint Staff, which oversees the ground, maritime and air Self-Defense Forces, while at the same time denying their existence in the GSDF unit.
But according to NHK, the GSDF leadership learned in mid-January that digital logs existed in multiple GSDF computers. Although initial policy was to disclose their existence, the leadership opted for concealment to avoid contradicting its earlier explanations and ordered their destruction, NHK said, quoting multiple anonymous sources.