Communications minister Ryota Takeda admitted Thursday that he dined with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. President Jun Sawada, as had been reported by a weekly magazine.
"It is true that I joined the dinner," Takeda said at a meeting of the communications committee of the House of Representatives.
Takeda said that he left the table after having two to three glasses of beer without ordering anything to eat, and that he paid ¥10,000.
"I think my attendance at the gathering was not something that conflicts with the Cabinet's ministerial code of conduct," Takeda said, noting that he did not receive any request from participants regarding the ministry's approval for specific matters.
His action could be a violation of the National Public Service Ethics Law prohibiting central government officials from receiving favors from companies in sectors they regulate. Meals expected to cost more than ¥10,000 must also be declared beforehand.
The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and NTT have recently been hit by a conflict-of-interest scandal involving hospitality, first reported by Shukan Bunshun magazine, in which Sawada had treated senior officials of the ministry to lavish meals.
According to the latest magazine report, the dinner in question was held at a Japanese restaurant in a hotel near the Imperial Palace on Nov. 11 last year following a proposal by Yoshiyuki Kasai, honorary chairman of Central Japan Railway Co.
"Mr. Kasai invited me to the dinner and I decided to make a brief appearance," Takeda told the Lower House committee. The minister also said he did not know who else was to attend until the day of the dinner.
Furthermore, Takeda said, "It came as a big surprise that the report was made in a unilateral manner, without any factual inquiry."
Since senior communications ministry officials were found to have been entertained by NTT side, the minister had repeatedly avoided saying at Diet sessions whether he had dined with any official at the telecommunications giant.
The dinner Takeda attended took place around the time when NTT made a tender offer to turn NTT Docomo Inc., the mobile phone arm of NTT, into a wholly owned subsidiary.
The magazine report said the NTT side "took" Takeda to the dinner because he was close to an external director of NTT Docomo who attended the event.
But a public relations official of NTT said the company did not invite Takeda to the dinner and did not make any request to the minister at the gathering.
Seiko Noda and Sanae Takaichi, both lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have admitted that they each dined with NTT officials when they served as communications minister.
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