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Opposition says unprecedented term extension for top Tokyo prosecutor politically motivated

Hiromu Kurokawa (Mainichi/Kazuhiro Toyama)

TOKYO -- The opposition camp has lambasted the government for deciding to extend the tenure of the head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, who is apparently close to the prime minister's office, by six months after he reaches the retirement age.

Hiromu Kurokawa, superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 63 on Feb. 7.

Opposition party legislators suggest that his tenure is being extended to allow him to become Japan's top prosecutor when the current Prosecutor-General, Nobuo Inada, 63, who will have served for two years by the coming summer, steps down.

"It's been said the extension is aimed at paving the way to appoint him as the next prosecutor-general to wield his influence (over prosecutors' offices)," Shu Watanabe of the opposition Democratic Party for the People said during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 3.

Justice Minister Masako Mori argued that the extension is aimed at "responding to investigations into and the trials of serious, complex and difficult incidents.

"Mr. Kurokawa's instructions to and supervision of his subordinates based on his immense knowledge and experiences are indispensable," Mori said.

Watanabe pointed out in the session that the Public Prosecutor's Office Act stipulates that prosecutors must retire at the age of 63, except for the prosecutor-general, who must retire at the age of 65. He then asked the justice minister why the government hurriedly decided to extend Kurokawa's retirement only one week before his birthday.

Mori defended the decision, saying it is permitted under the National Public Service Act.

"The National Public Service Act is applied to the decision since the Public Prosecutor's Office Act does not provide for the extension of the tenure of prosecutors," the justice minister said. "There are precedents of extending the retirement age of public servants even though no prosecutors have had their tenure extended beyond the mandatory retirement age."

The National Public Service Act allows the government to extend the mandatory retirement age of a national government official by not more than one year if the retirement of the official could seriously hinder the execution of public duties.

The opposition camp strongly suspects that the prime minister's office will lead the appointments of top prosecutors, as prosecutors are investigating a graft scandal involving an integrated casino resort that led to the arrest of a former member of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"Mr. Kurokawa has controlled judicial administration in compliance with the intentions of Abe administration," said Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP).

Diet affairs chiefs at four opposition parties agreed on Feb. 3 to press the government with questions over its decision to allow Kurokawa to stay on for six more months after reaching the mandatory retirement age.

"It is a delicate matter concerning relations between those who exercise authority and those who supervise them. The issue reveals the nature of the Abe government," said CDP Diet affairs chief Jun Azumi.

(Japanese original by Itsuo Tokubo, Political News Department, and Takakazu Murakami, City News Department)

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