The Public Prosecutor’s Office, in any country, is the arm of the law responsible for investigating crimes, gathering evidence and seeing to it that justice is done. In Japan, where collusion among politicians, bureaucrats and business-people is not uncommon, the Public Prosecutor’s Office is often the ultimate pillar of moral authority. In addition, Japanese public prosecutors command enormous respect for their professionalism and dedication in the discharge of their duties. This public respect, of course, has been magnified by the consistently high conviction rate they have achieved — a truth crooked politicians and corrupt bureaucrats alike have learned the hard way once they find themselves the target of an investigation by public prosecutors.

It is, therefore, a sad day when the second-highest-ranking public prosecutor has come under suspicion of possible abuse of office and ethical lapses. Mr. Mamoru Norisada, the superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, has been virtually forced to resign after his name was splashed across the news. Allegedly, Mr. Norisada allowed business associates to pay for entertainment at expensive Ginza hostess bars. There were other reported peccadilloes, such as taking a mistress along on official business trips, registering at a hotel with a woman under a false name and allowing business associates to pay abortion expenses of his mistress.

That Mr. Norisada should resign after all those allegations is not the issue. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office did the right thing in ordering an investigation as soon as the scandal hit the newsstands (courtesy of a published account by a 28-year-old woman who claimed to have been Mr. Norisada’s mistress). Less commendable is the short time the Justice Ministry took in concluding that Mr. Norisada broke no law.

Based on that finding, the ministry declared that there is no ground to reprimand Mr. Norisada for violating the National Public Service Law. Apart from accepting Mr. Norisada’s resignation and issuing a “stern warning,” the government decided to take no further action.

In announcing the results of the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office probe, the ministry declined to reveal details, for example, concerning who exactly paid the bills for entertainment in Ginza, or whether other public prosecutors were involved. These issues, the ministry insisted, infringed on the “territory of privacy.”

While we have no right and, indeed, no intention to pry into Mr. Norisada’s private affairs, the government owes the public answers to all the allegations laid out by Mr. Norisada’s one-time mistress, along with supporting evidence. Lacking an independent counsel, the onus lies with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to come squeaky clean. They are investigating one of their own and any doubt on the part of the public would leave a festering wound in the nation’s law-enforcement system.

By choosing to sweep the dirt under a carpet of “privacy,” the government is fueling rumor mills regarding the Norisada affair. A particularly sticky one to handle regards an alleged power struggle within the prosecutor’s office itself. The timing of the expose in the May issue of a monthly magazine has provoked such a suspicion because June is the time for top personnel shuffles at the Justice Ministry.

Like other bureaucratic organizations, there has been perennial tension within the public prosecution apparatus over pecking order. One faction is led by field public prosecutors who have climbed the bureaucratic ladder through public prosecution work. The other faction is allied with ex-senior Justice Ministry officials who have reached high rank through promotions within the ministry.

Mr. Norisada, who had served as director general of the Justice Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Bureau and the ministry’s administrative vice minister before he was appointed last year as head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, is a typical Justice Ministry career bureaucrat. By contrast, the current Supreme Prosecutor General, Mr. Keisuke Kitajima, is a veteran public prosecutor. With Mr. Norisada generally believed to be in line to succeed Mr. Kitajima, rumor has it that the timing of the expose and his subsequent removal are in some way connected to in-house opposition to a comeback by Justice Ministry bureaucrats for the top job in the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Such rumors only further harm the reputation of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It is up to the government to clear the air by releasing relevant details of the Norisada affair and mete out punishment where it is due.

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