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Japan minister defends whiting out name on list for controversial sakura party

Regional revitalization minister Seigo Kitamura is seen at the prime minister's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Feb. 14, 2020. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Cabinet minister Seigo Kitamura has defended whiting out the name of a government division behind a recommendation relating to a controversial cherry blossom-viewing party in a list submitted to the Diet in 2019.

"The practice does not violate the spirit of the Public Records and Archives Management Act," Kitamura, the regional revitalization minister who oversees the management of official documents, told a news conference on Feb. 14.

The annual taxpayer-funded sakura parties are controversial because many members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's supporting organization in his home constituency in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi were invited to the functions. Furthermore, the former head of a company that went under after engaging in a malicious pyramid marketing scheme is said to have received an invitation to the 2015 party from Abe. Opposition parties are grilling the government over the process of recommending invitees to these parties.

In November 2019, the Cabinet Office submitted copies of the lists of officials recommending guests to invite to cherry blossom-viewing parties to the House of Councillors Budget Committee. However, the office whited out the name of a government division that recommended one of the invitees.

Kitamura explained that the Cabinet Office's Personnel Division recommended invitees at the request of the Office of the Prime Minister's Official Residence at the Cabinet Affairs Office. But lists of the recommending parties provided by the prime minister's office, he said, accidentally ended up being preserved as the final lists.

"Before submitting the lists to the Diet, parts were deleted for fear that if the description of the division that recommended the individual was different from that in the final list, it could cause misunderstanding," Kitamura said.

He added, "It was inappropriate that the documents were submitted to the Diet without a clear explanation that they were different (from their originals). We should thoroughly check documents submitted to the Diet."

At the same time, the minister emphasized that hiding the department name was "not a problem in light of the public records management law."

He stated that if the copies are clearly treated as separate documents from their originals, it would not hinder the general public's use of official documents.

(Japanese original by Kenta Miyahara, Political News Department)

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