Defense Minister Tomomi Inada may be questioned over her alleged role in a suspected cover-up of the activity logs of Ground Self-Defense Force troops during a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, the top government spokesman said Thursday.
Inada was not supposed to be part of the internal investigation, which she ordered in March following revelations that the logs — initially said to have been discarded by GSDF members — were actually preserved.
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference that Inada “will have to cooperate if asked” by the Defense Ministry’s special inspection unit on issues recently reported by the media, such as whether she had agreed with other ministry and GSDF officials to keep from the public the fact that the “discarded” data was actually retained within the GSDF.
The ministry disclosed the activity logs in early February, claiming that while the GSDF had discarded the data, the logs were found on the computer of the Self-Defense Forces Joint Staff Office.
Immediately after the announcement, the GSDF erased the data it had in its possession, apparently to comply with the ministry’s official explanation, government sources said.
The data was deleted at the instruction of a top official of the GSDF staff office, the sources said. The official only told subordinates to “appropriately handle the data” after discounting the need to make public that the GSDF also had the data, but the subordinates took it as an order to erase them, according to the sources.
Data were deleted by the end of February. A civilian member of the Joint Staff Office is known to have told an official of the Ground Staff Office in late January that it was too late to admit that the GSDF had the data after all, according to the sources.
The Inspector-General’s Office of Legal Compliance, which is conducting the internal probe, is also expected to look into how SDF members handled the matter.
Inada told reporters on Thursday that she hopes the results of the investigation will come out “as soon as possible.”
Government sources have said that Inada met with Tetsuro Kuroe, the ministry’s top bureaucrat, Gen. Toshiya Okabe, GSDF chief of staff, and others on Feb. 15 and agreed to withhold the fact that the daily logs existed at the GSDF.
It was Kuroe’s wish to perform the alleged cover-up and Inada approved the idea, the sources said.
Inada has denied endorsing the decision to withhold the fact that the GSDF still possessed the daily activity logs.
The logs have drawn particular attention as firsthand information on the security situation in conflict-mired South Sudan, where Japan had deployed GSDF personnel as U.N. peacekeepers. The Defense Ministry received a request for information disclosure in October but said in December that the logs had been discarded.
The documents later turned out to contain descriptions of particularly tense moments. The information could have affected parliamentary debate on whether to give the GSDF members new, and possibly riskier, roles during the U.N. peacekeeping operation in line with the country’s security legislation that took effect in March last year.
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