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Japan gov't had backup data on sakura party guest lists despite 'disposal' claim

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center left) and his wife, Akie Abe, pose for a photo with guests at a sakura-viewing party at Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden on April 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

TOKYO -- The Cabinet Office was apparently in possession of backup data for guest lists to a controversial cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this spring despite it claiming in the Diet that it had "already discarded" the documents, it has emerged.

The backup data was saved in external media even though a senior Cabinet Office official said during a House of Representatives Financial Affairs Committee meeting on May 21 that the office had already disposed of the guest lists for the sakura party held only the month before. The denial was made following questioning from an opposition lawmaker whether the office was in possession of the data.

As the backup data is believed to have been retained until the end of June, opposition parties are blasting the Cabinet Office for "deceiving the Diet" for denying its existence and failing to provide the data in response to the opposition demand. An official with the Cabinet Office, however, defended its position, saying "public documents and backup data are different things."

The taxpayer-funded party, which the prime minister has traditionally hosted every spring, has come under fire over the murky guest selection process and the fact that many people linked to an organization supporting Abe were invited.

The invitee lists for the party were shredded on the afternoon of May 9, the very day Toru Miyamoto, a Japanese Communist Party member of the lower house, demanded that the Cabinet Office submit the documents. The electronic data of the guest lists was also deleted sometime between May 7 and 9.

However, in case data is lost or mistakenly disposed of, the Cabinet Office regularly saves server backup data to external media and retains it for up to eight weeks after the removal of electronic data.

When Miyamoto raised the question about the guest lists in the lower house financial affairs committee on May 21, Yasuhisa Ino, then director general of the Cabinet Office, responded, "The documents (such as the guest lists) were classified as documents whose retention period is less than one year, and were discarded as the party was already over."

Despite Ino's statement, the invitee lists are believed to have been recoverable from the backup data saved in external media at the time Miyamoto posed the Diet question.

During an opposition party hearing on Dec. 3, a Cabinet Office official explained, "Backup data is not something that (Cabinet Office) employees can tamper with. The question is whether backup data is the same as public documents or not."

Opposition parties have lashed back at the comment, with Miyamoto saying, "They could have retrieved the backup data at any time."

At a Dec. 4 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that backup data "does not count as government administrative documents." He added that backups "are not something that can be used by regular government staff in their duties, and thus are not in the nature of a shared, organizational document," asserting the government had no duty to preserve or share the guest list backup data.

Based on the Diet's right to conduct investigations in relation to the government, which is guaranteed under the Constitution of Japan, legislators are demanding that ministries and agencies submit administrative documents and other data concerning the cherry blossom-viewing function.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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