• Kyodo, Jiji


More communications ministry officials have been found to have been treated to expensive meals by a son of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the ministry said Monday, further widening a scandal that has already brought four senior bureaucrats under scrutiny.

The results of the ministry’s internal probe found that 11 of the 13 government officials have or are highly likely to have received favors from stakeholders in violation of the National Public Service Ethics Law.

The officials include Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada, who was then vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry. Most of them are expected to be reprimanded as early as Wednesday.

The 13 officials are said to have been wined and dined on a total of 39 occasions by Seigo Suga or other members of Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a company that offers satellite broadcasting services for which the ministry issues broadcast licenses, it said.

Suga’s eldest son has already been found to have dined with Yoshinori Akimoto, director general of the information and communications bureau, and Hironobu Yumoto, deputy director general of the bureau, as well as Yasuhiko Taniwaki and Mabito Yoshida, both vice ministers for policy coordination at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

The four were the only ones who were given taxi tickets and gifts from the son. Taniwaki received the largest amount of favors, worth a total of ¥118,000, according to the ministry.

On Monday, Suga apologized at a session of the Lower House Budget Committee.

“I feel very sorry that my eldest son was involved and public servants violated their ethics code as a result,” he said.

Communications minister Ryota Takeda also expressed regret that the scandal had fanned public distrust. But he said the ministry does not believe the broadcasting administration has been directly affected by the favors.

The ministry has replaced Akimoto and Yumoto, a move apparently aimed at preventing the scandal from affecting deliberations in the Diet where the government and Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party aim to pass bills including the fiscal 2021 budget and revisions to the Broadcasting Law.

The meetings first came to light in reports earlier this month by weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun. It released online what it claimed to be an audio recording of a conversations between Seigo Suga, Akimoto and another Tohokushinsha official, in which the son repeatedly mentions satellite broadcasting.

At a meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee on Friday, Akimoto admitted talking about satellite broadcasting business in a dinner meeting with the son, reversing his earlier claim that he did not remember.

Also on Friday, Kuniaki Hara, director-general of the minister’s Secretariat, told the Budget Committee meeting that Seigo Suga has admitted that audio data of his purported conversations with ministry officials exposed by the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun contained his voice.

The prime minister’s son became acquainted with some of the officials when he served as secretary to his father, who was internal affairs and communications minister between 2006 and 2007, according to the weekly magazine.

Suga has said he was not aware of the dinner sessions involving his son and the officials.

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