TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet on Feb. 13 that the Japanese government reinterpreted relevant legislation to extend the tenure of Japan's No. 2 public prosecutor, who is viewed as close to the government, beyond the mandatory retirement age of 63.
At a House of Representatives plenary session, Abe said the government has changed its interpretation of the National Public Service Act's provision on the extension of the mandatory retirement age for central government workers.
"I'm aware that based on the Public Prosecutor's Office Act, the government had interpreted the provision as not applicable to prosecutors," he said. He was referring to a statement that the National Personnel Authority made in the Diet in 1981 to the effect that the National Public Service Act's provision for the mandatory retirement age wasn't applicable to prosecutors. At the time, the authority noted that the mandatory retirement age had already been set for prosecutors.
However, the prime minister said in the Diet session on Feb. 13, "Prosecutors are also public servants, and the National Public Service Act generally applies to prosecutors unless specified otherwise by the Public Prosecutor's Office Act. Therefore, we've reinterpreted the National Public Service Act provision as applying to the extension of public prosecutors' mandatory retirement age."
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. The National Public Service Act allows the government to extend the mandatory retirement age of national government officials by not more than one year if the retirement of the officials could seriously hinder the execution of public duties.
Controversy was sparked by the extension of the tenure of Hiromu Kurokawa, superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, beyond the retirement age of 63, which has effectively opened the way for him to be promoted to Japan's top prosecutor in the future.
Kurokawa, who is viewed as close to the prime minister's office because he had previously served as deputy vice minister and vice minister of justice, was to retire on Feb. 7, the day before his 63rd birthday. The Cabinet, however, decided on Jan. 31 that he would serve for another six months. It is apparently unprecedented for the tenure of a prosecutor to be extended beyond their mandatory retirement age.
Opposition parties and other critics suspect that the prime minister's office aims to control the appointments of top prosecutors, as prosecutors are investigating a graft scandal involving an integrated casino resort that led to the arrest of a legislator who previously belonged to Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Opposition legislators have pointed out that the extension of Kurokawa's tenure runs counter to the relevant legislation and was arbitrary.
"As suspicions surrounding Prime Minister Abe persist, I suspect the government wants to retain the prosecutor (Kurokawa) as a 'guardian deity,'" said Yuichi Goto, an opposition Democratic Party for the People member of the lower chamber.
Prime Minister Abe dismissed such criticism, telling the Diet that "views that we arbitrarily made the personnel decision are totally incorrect."
At a lower house Budget Committee session on Feb. 12, Justice Minister Masako Mori said the Public Prosecutor's Office Act has two exceptional provisions -- those for the mandatory retirement age and the timing of retirement.
"The tenure has been extended under the National Public Service Act, and it'd be rather unreasonable if the tenure of public prosecutors could never be extended," she said. "Considering relations between the National Public Service Act, which is a general law, and the Public Prosecutor's Office Act, which is a special law, we've reinterpreted the former as applicable (to the extension of the tenure of public prosecutors beyond the retirement age)."
The justice minister then said," We consulted with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and the National Personnel Authority over the matter, and received replies that they have no objection to our interpretation."
(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara, Political News Department)