A senior government official with close ties to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resigned Tuesday after being reprimanded over a wining and dining scandal that involved other officials and companies that they supervise.
The resignation of Yasuhiko Taniwaki, who played a pivotal role in fulfilling Suga’s policy pledge of lowering mobile phone fees, came along with a decision by the communications ministry to suspend him from work for three months.
Taniwaki, who had been touted as a candidate for vice minister, the top post for bureaucrats at the ministry, was found to have violated the ethics code for central government officials by receiving lavish dinners from telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.
Taniwaki was originally scheduled to retire at the end of the month.
He also violated the National Public Service Act by failing to report the dinners with NTT executives when the ministry held a probe over a separate wining and dining scandal that involved satellite broadcaster Tohokushinsha Film Corp., for whom Suga’s eldest son Seigo Suga works.
Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda apologized and said at a news conference that Taniwaki’s acts “damaged people’s trust in public service.”
Takeda said the ministry will hold onto his retirement pay and suggested it could be reduced if further violations are found.
Eiji Makiguchi, head of the ministry’s Global Strategy Bureau, who had been similarly treated to an expensive meal by NTT, has been given a two-month pay cut, Takeda said.
Taniwaki’s exit deals another blow to Suga, whose public support ratings have fallen after a series of scandals involving officials and criticism of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is extremely regrettable,” Suga told reporters about Taniwaki’s resignation, adding that the ministry will investigate the matter with a third party panel.
The ministry’s probe so far has found Taniwaki accepted meals from NTT worth a total of about ¥107,000 ($987), on three occasions between September 2018 and July 2020. Makiguchi attended a meal in June 2020 at which the bill came to ¥51,000, a large part of which was paid for by the company.
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