The communications ministry said Friday it has replaced two senior bureaucrats and is considering reprimands following reports that its officials were treated to expensive dinners by a son of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in a possible violation of the ethics code.
Communications minister Ryota Takeda denied the scandal was the reason for the transfers of Yoshinori Akimoto, director general of the information and communications bureau, and Hironobu Yumoto, deputy director general of the bureau, but said it was part of the efforts to “place the right people in the right jobs” before parliamentary deliberations go into full swing.
The government and Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are aiming to pass key bills during the session, including the fiscal 2021 budget and revisions to the Broadcasting Law, and are apparently seeking to prevent the scandal from delaying the deliberation schedule.
Seigo Suga, the prime minister’s eldest son, had dined with the two senior bureaucrats as well as Yasuhiko Taniwaki and Mabito Yoshida, both vice ministers for policy coordination at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
“I deeply apologize for causing distrust among people,” said Takeda, while revealing the ministry is considering reprimanding the officials involved.
Under the National Public Service Ethics Law, government officials are banned from being wined and dined by people with interests in affairs related to the officials’ duties.
Akimoto told the Diet on Friday he recognizes Suga’s son as a person with a vested interest in the ministry, retracting his previous remark that he did not consider him to be a stakeholder. Seigo Suga works for Tohokushinsha Film Corp., units of which operate satellite broadcasting services, and the ministry issues broadcast licenses to them.
During the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee meeting on Friday, the ministry revealed that Seigo Suga has admitted that he is among the voices on a recorded conversation reported by weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun.
The magazine released online Wednesday what it claimed was an audio recording of the conversations between Seigo Suga, Akimoto and another Tohokushinsha official, in which Suga’s son repeatedly mentions satellite broadcasting.
Reversing his previous denial, Akimoto also said at the session that he must have talked about satellite broadcasting with Seigo Suga.
The ministry previously explained that Akimoto only recalls a part of the recorded conversation, prompting the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan to accuse the ministry of attempting to “systematically conceal” what happened and demand further investigation.
Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii was also critical, saying the scandal “deepened suspicion” that the policymaking process at the central government had been “distorted.”
Still, Takeda did not retract his statement in the Diet that the wining and dining had no impact on broadcasting administration.
The ministry’s probe on the matter has found the four senior bureaucrats dined with the eldest of Suga’s three sons on a total of 12 occasions beginning in 2016, and received gifts from him.
Seigo Suga became acquainted with some of the officials when he served as secretary to his father, who was internal affairs and communications minister from 2006 to 2007, according to the weekly magazine.
The prime minister has said he was not aware of the dinner sessions between his son and the officials.
The CDP demanded Thursday that Seigo Suga be summoned to the Diet to appear as a witness.
The party also called for Taniwaki and Yoshida to appear for questioning.
Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said his party will work to ensure Taniwaki and Yoshida are accountable.
The decision comes after various other scandals hit the Suga administration. Earlier this month, several LDP lawmakers left the party after visiting nightlife spots despite government calls to avoid unnecessary outings under a state of emergency.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.