• Kyodo

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An inquest body said Thursday it has concluded that a former top Tokyo prosecutor, believed to have been favored by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, should be indicted for gambling with news reporters while the nation was under a state of emergency earlier this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The decision by the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecutions forces prosecutors to reinvestigate the matter after they previously chose not to indict Hiromu Kurokawa, 63.

The committee said Kurokawa continued gambling even though he was in a position one might expect to deter illegal acts as head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office, and that the case had a significant impact on society.

“His awareness that he sets a norm (for the public) is low,” it said.

In July, Tokyo prosecutors recognized that Kurokawa played mahjong for money with two Sankei Shimbun reporters and a former reporter of the Asahi Shimbun on four occasions between April and May.

But the prosecutors decided not to indict them, given that the individuals had been reprimanded by their respective organizations and shown remorse.

Kurokawa stepped down on May 22 after a weekly magazine reported on the gambling.

On Thursday, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement, “We take the (committee’s) decision seriously. After examining it, we will conduct necessary investigations and take appropriate measures.”

Even if the prosecutors decide not to indict Kurokawa after reinvestigating the case, he will be prosecuted if the committee again concludes that he should be.

Kurokawa had been at the heart of a major controversy prior to the scandal.

In January, Abe’s Cabinet allowed Kurokawa to remain in his post after he turned 63 — the retirement age for all prosecutors bar the prosecutor general, who can work until age 65 — sparking speculation the then-prime minister was poised to make him Japan’s prosecutor general.

After critics said such a move would violate the law relating to the public prosecutor’s office, the government and ruling coalition sought to revise the law to raise prosecutors’ retirement age to 65.

The attempt sparked a public backlash led by celebrities on social media, and the government and ruling camp eventually gave up on pushing the bill through parliament.

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