Defense Minister Tomomi Inada shrugged off Wednesday a news report on ministry notes suggesting her involvement in an alleged coverup of controversial logs that listed the daily activity of Japanese troops serving as peacekeepers in South Sudan.
Inada has denied a role in the suspected coverup after the allegations surfaced, insisting she was not informed in the first place that the logs — initially said to have been discarded by Ground Self-Defense Force members — were actually preserved by them.
While suspicion continues to mount through media reports, a government source said final arrangements are underway to announce the outcome of the Defense Ministry’s months-long internal investigation on the issue on Friday.
Commercial broadcaster Fuji News Network reported Tuesday that it obtained “handwritten notes” of a Feb. 13 meeting, taken by a senior Defense Ministry official, that showed Inada was informed by a senior Ground Staff Office member of the existence of the logs’ digital data.
The logs described particularly tense moments last summer in the fledgling African country mired in conflict. They contained controversial information that could have affected the heated parliamentary discussions last year on the GSDF mission there.
Two days later, on Feb. 15, Inada allegedly endorsed a decision reached by the top echelon of the ministry and the Ground Staff Office to keep from the public the fact that the GSDF had retained the logs once thought to have been discarded.
Inada told reporters Wednesday she will not change her assertion. “It’s the same as what I said earlier at the Diet,” she said. On the existence of the notes, she said, “I have not confirmed it.”
A Defense Ministry official told lawmakers of the main opposition force,the Democratic Party, the same day that the ministry cannot at this stage tell whether the notes are authentic. He also said he expects facts to be revealed through the internal probe, conducted by the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance.
In the notes, which the broadcaster said “strongly suggests” Inada’s involvement in the coverup, the defense chief asked whether the logs existed. GSDF Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Goro Yuasa answered: “We only checked whether the logs existed in the form of papers. But if asked whether they were left in (digital) data, yes, they were.”
According to the notes, Inada also said, “I wonder what I should say tomorrow,” referring apparently to what she should say in the Diet when asked about the logs.
At that time, Inada was already being grilled by opposition parties over the handling of the logs, part of which the Defense Ministry disclosed on Feb. 7 following a fresh investigation conducted under her instruction.
The whole issue dates back to December, when the ministry said it could not fulfill an information disclosure request for the logs recording the GSDF’s activities last July because the logs were discarded. In July last year, the security situation in South Sudan sharply deteriorated.
The ministry reversed its earlier explanation in February, saying the data were found on a computer of the Self-Defense Forces Joint Staff Office. But top SDF officials reportedly had known by that time that the GSDF actually had the data from the beginning.
Acknowledging the data’s existence in the GSDF would have been embarrassing to the ministry.
The focus of the internal investigation is whether the inspectors will acknowledge Inada’s involvement in the suspected coverup. The probe will also look into how the ministry and the SDF managed their documents.
This year’s regular Diet session ended in June, but the House of Representatives Security Committee is expected to hold a meeting to question Inada over the suspected data coverup after the outcome of the investigation is announced.
The Defense Ministry is likely to announce the results Friday, but the schedule could be pushed back if, for example, North Korea test-launches an intercontinental ballistic missile. The ministry is also expected to announce who among its officials are reprimanded over the scandal.