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Politics

Suga takes heat for son's wining and dining of senior bureaucrats

Japanese prime minister says he told him to cooperate with the ethics probe

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga answers questions during a parliamentary committee session Feb. 4. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday faced a grilling from lawmakers in parliament following a report of his eldest son, a private company employee, inviting government officials to lavish dinners. 

Weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun first reported that his son took four senior bureaucrats from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to expensive restaurants in Tokyo from October through December last year. The younger Suga works at a satellite broadcasting company that falls under the ministry's jurisdiction.

Taking questions from the lower house Budget Committee, Suga said he was "completely unaware" of the dinners, adding that he told his son to cooperate in the ministry's ethics probe.

"It doesn't matter who was involved," he said. "I want the communications ministry to find out the facts and take appropriate action based on the rules to eliminate any public suspicion." 

Yoshinori Akimoto, director general of the Information and Communications Bureau, acknowledged attending the dinners. He disclosed that the son's company paid dining and transportation expenses.

Akimoto said he later he paid back the money to the best of his knowledge after realizing that he had dined with people from a company under the ministry's oversight.

Japanese ethics law forbids public officials from being entertained by or receiving gifts from those with conflicting interests. Akimoto, citing the ongoing probe by the communications ministry, did not say whether the dinners fall into this category.

Suga took fire from the opposition camp during Thursday's parliamentary session. Takahiro Kuroiwa, a Constitutional Democratic Party lawmaker, touched on how the younger Suga served as one of the secretaries to his father during his stint as communications minister in the 2000s.

"Wasn't [your son's appointment] more indulgent than a hereditary political succession?" Kuroiwa asked Suga.

"His appointment was done based on the rules," Suga said in response.

"I won't have any of my three sons become politicians," he said. "Normally, I don't meet with them for the most part. Limiting hereditary successions is my political belief."

Suga also discussed Anri Kawai, who resigned her upper house legislative seat Wednesday after a conviction in a vote-buying scandal.

"It's important for politicians to be always aware of their responsibilities and to behave accordingly," Suga said.

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