A panel investigating faulty jobs data denied Wednesday that there had been a systematic cover-up at the labor ministry, saying top bureaucrats had been unaware monthly labor surveys were "conducted improperly" for almost 15 years.

The conclusion reached by the investigative committee was based on a probe that followed a report released on Jan. 22, which was criticized after it was revealed that ministry officials had been involved in its drafting. The first report had said there was no definitive proof of a ministry-wide cover-up.

The scandal, which came to light in January, involved sampling irregularities and led to the underpayment of work-related benefits to more than 20 million people, as well as casting doubt over the accuracy of government statistics.