• Kyodo

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Former communications minister Seiko Noda on Thursday denied she had been wined and dined by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. as reported by a weekly magazine in the latest development of a scandal involving the telecom giant and the communications ministry.

Noda, executive acting secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, made the denial a day after weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun said she was treated to lavish dinners by NTT presidents and officials in 2017 and 2018 while serving as minister of internal affairs and communications.

Aside from Noda, the magazine reported Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai and LDP lawmaker Minoru Terada, who both served as a senior vice minister at the ministry, were treated to expensive meals by the company.

A series of revelations, one of which led to the ousting of Yasuhiko Taniwaki as vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry, has dealt a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government.

Speaking to reporters at LDP headquarters, Noda admitted to dining with NTT presidents at the time, but said she understood them as “private gatherings” — not wining and dining sessions — and she discussed “almost nothing about work” with them.

Noda said she shared the cost of the first dinner with then-NTT Docomo Inc. President Keiji Tachikawa, but the second one was paid for by Kazutoshi Murao, then-president of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corp., and she returned the amount totaling ¥26,000.

The ministry, which Suga led from 2006 to 2007, approves NTT’s business plans and board members.

Sakai admitted to dining with NTT Chairman Hiromichi Shinohara in 2018, but said, “There was absolutely no request (made by NTT) regarding operations of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.”

Sakai’s office said Shinohara extended an invitation by saying he would introduce Sakai to a friend on June 29 of that year and that the NTT chairman footed the bill.

Asked whether Sakai’s action violated rules that prohibit government officials from being wined and dined in return for favors, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not respond directly and only said Sakai should “judge appropriately on his own.”

Terada’s office admitted NTT President Jun Sawada treated him to a meal while he was a senior vice minister.

An internal probe has found that Taniwaki very likely violated Japan’s ethics code for government officials by accepting meals worth a total of about ¥107,000 from NTT officials.

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