• Kyodo

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A senior official with close ties to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was ousted from his position on Monday after the communications ministry acknowledged he was treated to expensive meals by a telecom giant.

Yasuhiko Taniwaki, who was dismissed as a vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry, very likely violated Japan’s ethics code for government officials by accepting the meals, worth a total of about ¥107,000 ($987), on three occasions between September 2018 and July 2020.

The ministry identified Taniwaki’s wrongdoing in an interim report on its investigation into a wine-and-dine scandal involving Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.

It also found Eiji Makiguchi, head of its Global Strategy Bureau, ate a meal worth ¥51,000 in June 2020 in large part paid for by NTT, a technology and communications titan regulated by the ministry.

The attendees of the dinner at a member’s only restaurant in an upscale area of Tokyo included NTT President Jun Sawada and Makiko Yamada, a former high-ranking communications ministry official in charge of international affairs, who until recently was a press official for Suga.

Taniwaki contributed only ¥5,000 in total for the meals in question and Makiguchi paid ¥10,000 for his meal, according to the interim report.

The scandal, first reported by a weekly magazine last week, followed a similar one also involving Taniwaki, who played a pivotal role in helping Suga to fulfill his promise of lowering mobile phone fees in the country.

Along with 10 other officials, Taniwaki was reprimanded by the ministry late last month for violating the code after being treated to lavish dinners by executives of Tohokushinsha Film Corp. including Suga’s eldest son.

“It is extremely regrettable that acts that are suspected to be violations have been confirmed again,” Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda told reporters.

The National Public Service Ethics Law prohibits government officials from receiving favors from companies in sectors they regulate and stipulates that meals expected to cost more than ¥10,000 must be declared in advance.

Following its probe into the first scandal involving Tohokushinsha, the ministry had said that there were no further violations of the code.

Yamada also resigned as Cabinet public relations secretary after coming under fire for being treated to a dinner worth ¥74,000 in 2019 hosted by Seigo Suga and other Tohokushinsha executives.

Opposition lawmakers have been ramping up pressure on Suga’s administration, calling for the sacking of the communications minister.

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