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A tunnel being built under the new prime minister’s office building to link it with the Cabinet Secretariat and Cabinet Office will allow those wanting to avoid reporters after meeting Japan’s leader to skulk away unseen, according to political sources.

The project is fueling concerns about a lack of transparency in the government.

The tunnel, about 200 meters long, will be completed by the end of fiscal 2004. It will be connected to the second floor of the prime minister’s office building, which is off-limits to journalists.

A Cabinet Office official in charge of the project said: “It’s a side gate for administrative officials in the ministries and agencies. It’s impossible for them not to be noticed by reporters when entering.”

But a source close to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, “The tunnel may be used by high-ranking officials when they don’t want to be seen by the media.”

The building housing the prime minister’s office and official residence, completed in March last year, has one floor below ground, five above ground and stands on a slope near the Diet.

The prime minister’s office is on the top floor. A room for Cabinet meetings on the fourth floor is off-limits to reporters.

Visitors to the building usually use a front entrance on the third floor. Journalists can log visitors via a monitor installed on the fifth floor.

However, visitors using an entrance on the west side of the first floor — where reporters are not allowed — can ascend to the fifth floor and enter the prime minister’s office via a corridor that has no surveillance cameras.

The source admitted, “Visitors are entering the prime minister’s office through that entrance without being noticed by reporters.”

The construction of the tunnel is part of a 20 billion yen project for expanding and improving the official residence and is mainly aimed at closer contacts between it, the Cabinet Office and other government departments.

An official in charge of the project said: “At present, we cross public streets with traffic signals to bring documents to the official residence. On rainy days, documents can get wet.”

But the use of the tunnel as a secret route can keep important information away from the public, including parties being met by top authorities.

Political commentator Keiichiro Nakamura, who was a secretary to the late Prime Minister Takeo Miki, said: “It’s important to make the official residence open to the public, but not everything should be open. With regard to the tunnel, reporters and the official residence should hold close consultations.”

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