• Kyodo, JIJI

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The communications ministry reprimanded 11 officials on Wednesday for ethics code violations after they were treated to expensive meals by officials of a broadcasting company, including the eldest son of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

An internal probe has found 13 officials have or are highly likely to have violated the National Public Service Ethics Law, which prohibits officials from receiving favors from stakeholders. The ministry determined that they have been wined and dined on a combined 39 occasions by Seigo Suga or other members of Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a company that offers satellite broadcasting services, for which the ministry grants licenses.

The ministry said the 11 officials were slapped with pay cuts or warnings over their violations.

One of the 13 officials, Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada, who was then vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry, is not expected to be reprimanded, as she has since retired from the ministry and the ethics code does not cover someone who is given a special status to serve in a government post.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, however, said at a regular news conference that the government will decide how she should be punished after reprimands of others are finalized.

Kato later told the House of Representatives’ Cabinet committee that Yamada had explained she was not aware that the other party was a stakeholder or that the prime minister’s son was attending the dinner.

Yamada was found by the ministry to have been treated to a meal worth ¥74,000 that Kato revealed consisted of seafood and wagyu. The amount spent on that dinner attended by Yamada and four company officials, including Seigo Suga, totaled more than ¥370,000, he said.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party said it will summon Yamada as a witness to the Lower House Budget Committee on Thursday as sought by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan after the main opposition party threatened to boycott deliberations.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda apologized again at a regular news conference for causing public distrust and said the ministry will thoroughly re-investigate the matter to make sure there were no instances of a quid pro quo.

Of the 39 occasions of such treatment between July 2016 and December last year, the ministry’s probe found the prime minister’s son attended 21. The amount shouldered by the company totaled ¥608,000.

Seigo Suga has already been found to have dined with Yoshinori Akimoto, former director general of the information and communications bureau, and Hironobu Yumoto, former deputy director general of the bureau, as well as Yasuhiko Taniwaki and Mabito Yoshida, both vice ministers for policy coordination at the ministry.

Akimoto and Yumoto were removed from their posts last week after details of the scandal came to light.

Among the 13 officials in question, the four were the only ones given taxi vouchers and gifts from Seigo Suga. Taniwaki received the largest amount of favors — ¥118,000 — according to the ministry.

The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun has released online what it claimed to be an audio recording of Seigo Suga repeatedly mentioning satellite broadcasting in conversations with Akimoto and another Tohokushinsha executive. On Friday, Kuniaki Hara, director-general of the minister’s secretariat, told a Lower House Budget Committee meeting that Seigo Suga has admitted that the audio contained his voice.

The ministry quickly replaced Akimoto and Yumoto after the scandal surfaced, apparently seeking to prevent it from affecting the deliberation of bills in the Diet, including one for the fiscal 2021 draft budget.

According to the weekly magazine, Seigo Suga 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.

Suga has said he was not aware of the dinner sessions between his son and the officials but has apologized for his son’s involvement.

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