Defense Minister Tomomi Inada again denied Friday that she was involved in an alleged cover-up of the politically sensitive Ground Self-Defense Force activity logs from conflict-riven South Sudan and rebuffed calls for her resignation.
Facing a packed news conference at the Defense Ministry, a solemn Inada repeatedly denied approving a cover-up and stressed her willingness to cooperate with an internal investigation into the scandal that she ordered in March.
“I have consistently advocated for more proactive information disclosure and worked hard to shed light on the truth. The allegation that I approved a withdrawal or cover-up of information is incompatible with my attitude to date,” Inada said.
Asked whether she intends to resign, Inada repeatedly said no.
“I am aware I have been criticized a lot, but I would like to continue to do what’s necessary,” she said.
Inada repeatedly said she would “be more than happy to cooperate” with a hearing conducted by her ministry’s internal task force, but its objectivity and purpose would be questioned because it is overseen by Inada herself, and she is not within the scope of its investigation.
“Technically speaking, I’m not subject to the probe, but I’m ready to cooperate anytime,” she said.
Criticism of Inada, a protege of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, flared anew earlier in the week when reports emerged suggesting she had approved a cover-up of GSDF data from the daily South Sudan activity logs at an emergency meeting in February with Defense Ministry officials. On Friday, Inada denied the meeting took place.
The allegation was the latest in a litany of scandals gnawing at what was once considered Abe’s invincible administration.
The popularity of Abe’s Cabinet has sunk to a dangerously low 29.9 percent — the lowest since he returned to power in December 2012, according to a recent Jiji Press opinion poll.
Before the latest allegations, Inada, whose SDF-related gaffe arguably played a major part in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s humiliating rout in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election this month, was widely expected to be replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle slated for early August. There is now speculation she might not last until the reshuffle.
To make matters worse, the fresh allegations are hitting just ahead of Abe’s scheduled appearance at a special Diet hearing next week, giving the opposition fresh ammunition to grill him with.
The activity logs at the center of the cover-up allegations were compiled by the GSDF unit in war-torn South Sudan last July and were considered a barometer for determining whether the situation there amounted to combat. Any suggestion to that effect would be politically explosive because it would contradict Japan’s conditions for the sensitive issue of deploying troops overseas. To do so, a cease-fire must be in place.
In December, the Defense Ministry rejected a request from a freelance journalist to disclose the logs, stating they had been discarded by the GSDF. But it soon emerged that digital copies had in fact been saved by SDF’s Joint Staff, and these were made public by the ministry on Feb. 7.
Meanwhile, in January, another set of digital files related to the logs was found within the GSDF. On March 15, media reports revealed that the logs had actually been retained by the GSDF. The next day, Inada told a Lower House committee that the cover-up was “not reported” to her. But recent reports by Kyodo News state that attendees at a Feb. 15 meeting — including Inada — decided to overlook the January finding to avoid contradicting earlier ministry statements.
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