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Statements by Foreign Ministry officials have been called into question following the release of a formerly classified ministry document relating to the overseas visit support division.

The division was recently abolished in the wake of recent allegations that its former longtime director embezzled funds.

According to the four-page document, the director of the division was given responsibility for the accounting of public funds — including discretionary government funds — when the division was established in April 1990.

The document was obtained by Kyodo News under the information disclosure law that took effect April 1.

It contradicts allegations by ministry officials that Katsutoshi Matsuo, 55, a former head of the division who stands accused of embezzling millions of yen in public funds, began handling the Cabinet Secretariat’s discretionary funds without the knowledge of his superiors.

The secret funds are meant to cover expenses incurred in the carrying out of classified activities, including information gathering, and generally do not have to be specifically accounted for.

The document, which is titled “The Establishment of the Overseas Visit Support Division” and is dated March 30, 1990, was produced by the general affairs division in the Foreign Minister’s Secretariat and approved by the deputy vice foreign minister.

In it, the ministry indicated it planned to rotate the post of division head on a yearly basis. This is because the job was viewed as entailing extremely hard work and also because it was seen as an opportunity to provide promising staff members with valuable experience.

But Matsuo held the position from October 1993 to August 1999 and was only the second person in the post.

He was fired over the allegations in late January, and the division was subsequently abolished at the end of that month.

The document states that the person in charge of the overseas visit support division is responsible for rear-area logistics support for overseas visits by the prime minister, foreign minister, members of the Imperial family and other VIPs.

These duties, which had formerly been handled by the bureaus and divisions pertaining to the respective destinations, were to be gradually transferred to the new division, according to the document.

Accounting for the division was to be handled by the then Asian Affairs Bureau from April 1990 to that summer, then by the division until November 1990, the document says.

The general affairs division was then to determine who would handle the responsibilities, based on the availability of staff in the division and the respective regional bureaus and divisions.

In a January report on its internal investigation into the Matsuo case, the ministry admitted that his lengthy tenure in the post was one of the factors that probably led to the embezzlement.

It made no reference, however, to the initial plan to rotate the position on a yearly basis.

The report is one of the first documents released by the ministry under the information disclosure law. On Monday, the ministry made available full documentation relating to eight cases, and partially disclosed documents on another eight.

The ministry decided to disclose the report on the establishment of the overseas visit support division, which had originally been designated as confidential, because it “does not contain information that should particularly be secret,” according to a senior ministry official.

Monday’s release, however, represents only a tiny percentage of some 1,000 applications the ministry has received since the new law came into force.

Under the law, government ministries and agencies are obliged to inform applicants in writing within 30 days whether they will disclose the requested information.

They are allowed to postpone the issuance of a response for a further 30 days if they deem it impossible to process requests for certain reasons, such as having received a large volume of applications.

The Foreign Ministry, which has received far more applications than most other organs, has already taken steps to delay their decision notices in 700 cases.

Some ministry officials have even expressed concern they will not even be able to meet the later deadline, given the current slow pace of decision-making.

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