• Kyodo

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Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano is at odds with prefectural police over the disclosure of financial rewards supposedly paid to informers in criminal cases.

Earlier this month, Asano requested interviews with rank-and-file officers of the Miyagi Prefectural Police to look into the way such money is used, amid public criticism that the funds are being spent in nontransparent ways.

However, top officials of the prefectural police remain reluctant, saying they will study the request to see if the governor has the legal power to directly investigate internal police matters.

The dispute was set off by a lawsuit filed by an ombudsman group urging the prefecture to disclose documents over the use of money paid by the Miyagi police as reward to people cooperating with criminal investigations.

In a January ruling, the Sendai District Court partially supported the group’s argument and ordered the prefecture to disclose the monthly balance of such payments.

Afterword, Hajime Higashikawa, head of the prefectural police, urged the governor to appeal the ruling to a higher court, saying that disclosure of such information “could hamper criminal investigations,” according to Miyagi officials.

Asano, however, was not convinced, telling the police chief he wants to make a decision after interviewing rank-and-file officers to see how such information disclosure would make police operations difficult, the officials said.

When Higashikawa turned down the governor’s request, Asano replied by refusing to appeal the ruling. “I wondered if they are hiding something from me,” Asano said, describing the police response as “extremely difficult to understand.”

The dispute is the third time Asano has clashed with local police headquarters.

In 2000, he had serious arguments with police officials over how much discretion police should be permitted under a revised local ordinance on information disclosure.

Last July, Asano took the rare step of seeking an auditory probe into suspicions that Miyagi police are manipulating books to make it look like its officials made business trips that never actually took place.

Although the probe by the prefecture’s audit committee failed to prove any wrongdoing since most of the relevant documents had already been destroyed, the episode left a deep distrust toward Asano on the part of the Miyagi police.

“Information disclosure is the governor’s only achievement to date. He is merely staging a performance for voters by antagonizing the police,” said a senior Miyagi police official.

Tsunesuke Kurayama, secretary general of the ombudsman group, meanwhile asserts that all the money supposedly paid to informers is in fact pooled into a slush fund.

“We appreciate the governor’s efforts, but nothing will probably come out even if the police comply with his request,” Kurayama said, calling for a full disclosure of relevant documents.

The January ruling ordered the governor to disclose the amount paid by police to informers, but turned down the ombudsman group’s request for information on how the money was spent.

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