Defense Agency Director General Hosei Norota admitted Monday that some uniformed officers of the Self-Defense Forces moved procurement-related documents out of their offices prior to the September raid on the agency.
“We deeply apologize for the fact that another transfer of files (before the raid) has been uncovered,” Norota told the Lower House Budget Committee. The defense chief, however, denied earlier media reports that asserted that the transferred documents included files related to the dubious selection of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. as contractor for Air Self-Defense Force’s training aircraft.
“So far, our in-house probe has not confirmed the (reported) transfer of the aircraft-selection files, including those related to T-7,” Norota said.
The ASDF in August chose Fuji Heavy’s T-7 airplane over Swiss aircraft PC-7MkII as the ASDF’s next-generation training aircraft, after Fuji Heavy mysteriously offered a huge discount on the price of the aircraft.
Officers from all three branches of the SDF were involved in the transfer of the documents, which were related to the status of the agency’s budget as well as the employment of retired agency officials by private firms, according to Norota.
The Defense Agency started another in-house probe early Saturday morning, a few hours after media reports circulated alleging coverup attempts by uniformed SDF officers before Sept. 3, when prosecutors raided the agency in connection with a procurement overcharging scandal.
A week and a half after the Sept. 3 raid, the agency initiated an in-house investigation. In November, it admitted that some actions — such as moving and destroying procurement-related documents — taken by officials of the agency’s Central Procurement Office and Internal Bureau before the raid could constitute a “systematic coverup.”
The earlier probe, however, failed to question uniformed personnel at the head offices of the three forces that are located together at the agency’s main compound in Minato Ward, Tokyo.
At a press conference later in the day, Defense Agency Vice Minister Seiji Ema said that all the papers moved were copies of original documents and the agency has yet to prove how instructions were given to those who moved the files.
Ema said that some procurement-related files of the ASDF — including the information on its contractors and the number of retired agency officials who were hired by the firms — were transferred to the high-security Central Command Post inside the agency compound before the raid. All the moved papers were returned to the original places around Sept. 20, he said.
Ema said the questioned staffers have said that they did so to keep their daily operations running in case the documents were to be confiscated during the raid.
“I regret that they did such things because they could have asked the investigators to allow them to make copies before (the documents) were confiscated,” Ema said.
“We move our files in our daily business and those files had nothing to do with the raid in September. I feel that the media is kind of exaggerating on this (new coverup allegation),” said a senior agency official who asked not to be named. “It was just bad timing (that they moved the files before the raid).”
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