• Kyodo

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An elite bureaucrat treated to a luxury dinner in 2019 by Seigo Suga, the eldest son of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in violation of an ethics code for her position, has refused to step down despite calls from opposition party representatives for her to do so.

Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada, 60, was found to have been treated to a meal worth ¥74,000 ($700) by the prime minister's son and other officials from Tohokushinsha Film Corp., which runs a satellite broadcasting business.

The engagement was in violation of the ethics code because Yamada was at that time a vice minister for policy coordination at the communications ministry and Seigo Suga was considered a stakeholder in such policy.

Yamada apologized at the Diet on Thursday but said she would not resign over the scandal. The government has also understood to have scrambled to keep her to maintain the number of women who have Cabinet roles.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Yamada would voluntarily return ¥705,000, or 60% of her monthly salary, over the 2019 dinner.

"I apologize for damaging public trust in civil servants due to the violation (of the ethics code) while I was at the communications ministry," Yamada said at a meeting of the House of Representatives' Budget Committee, where she was summoned as a witness.

"I want to improve myself as much as possible by reflecting on it while I continue to serve at my post," she added.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda rejected calls from the opposition for Yamada to step down, saying he would "make efforts to regain the lost trust."

Prime Minister Suga had suggested Wednesday the government had no plan to make her step down, telling reporters she had sincerely reflected on what she did. "I have high hopes for her as a female public relations official," he said.

Yamada became the first woman to assume her current position, which sees her manage the prime minister's news conferences, in September last year, when the elder Suga replaced Shinzo Abe as prime minister.

Abe had also made her Japan's first female secretary to the prime minister in 2013 as his government sought to promote gender equality as a pillar of its growth strategy.

Yamada said she may have discussed the broadcasting industry in general with the Tohokushinsha officials, but they did not ask for any favors from her. "I did not make sufficient checks about whether (the Tohokushinsha officials) were stakeholders. It was a lapse," Yamada said at the Diet.

Other senior bureaucrats of the communications ministry who were similarly treated to expensive meals by Tohokushinsha officials were reprimanded Wednesday for ethics code violations.

But Yamada escaped a reprimand as she had already retired from the ministry and the ethics code does not cover individuals granted special status to serve in a government post.

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