The Ground Self-Defense Force failed to report to then-defense chief Tomomi Inada that it had found activity logs in March 2017 for troops in Iraq, even as she denied their existence during Diet deliberations the previous month, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Wednesday.
The latest revelation comes as another potential blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, already embroiled in a cronyism scandal over a heavily discounted sale of state land to a school operator with ties to his wife, Akie.
The GSDF reported to the ministry in January this year that it had found the logs, even though the documents were discovered over nine months before.
Opposition lawmakers had requested to see the logs, but the ministry said on Feb. 16 last year that such logs did not exist. Four days later, Inada told a Diet committee that the ministry was unable to find the logs.
“I want to apologize for inaccurate explanations in the Diet and the failure to respond appropriately to the request for the documents,” Onodera told reporters, adding that he has set up an investigation team in the ministry.
The ministry was rocked by a similar scandal last year, when its inappropriate handling of GSDF activity logs for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan prompted Inada to resign in July.
Regarding the logs for GSDF personnel dispatched for reconstruction efforts in war-torn Iraq more than 10 years ago, the ministry admitted Monday that it had found them despite denying their existence last year.
Opposition lawmakers had been asking for the logs as deteriorating security conditions in South Sudan and risks facing the peacekeepers were being discussed in the Diet at the time.
“I cannot believe that the Defense Ministry would come as far as reporting false information,” said Hajime Sebata, an associate professor at Nagano Prefectural College who is knowledgeable about public document management.
“There have been a series of problems regarding the government’s handling of public documents, but this case (involving the Defense Ministry) is even worse,” Sebata said, referring to the Finance Ministry’s admission that it had altered documents on the state land sale to the school operator.
Japan sent roughly 5,500 GSDF personnel to Iraq from January 2004 to July 2006 to provide water and medical aid and help repair infrastructure in Samawah in the south of the country.
The mission stirred controversy as it was the first time for Japan to send the SDF, whose role is restricted by the war-renouncing Constitution, to a country where fighting was continuing.