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Japan gov't body changes stance to support PM Abe on extending senior prosecutor's tenure

Hiromu Kurokawa, superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, is seen in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Jan. 21, 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuhiro Toyama)

TOKYO -- Japan's National Personnel Authority (NPA) has corrected its statement over the government's interpretation of the law on the extension of national public servants' retirement age in an apparent bid to keep consistency with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's remarks on the extension of the tenure of a senior prosecutor who is viewed as close to the government.

Emiko Matsuo, head of the NPA's Remuneration Bureau, retracted her earlier statement in the Diet that the government has "up until now" maintained its interpretation that the National Public Service Act's clause on the extension of the mandatory retirement of national public employees does not apply to public prosecutors.

"It was inaccurate. I retract my remarks," Matsuo told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 19.

Matsuo then said the NPA changed its interpretation sometime before the end of January -- ahead of the Cabinet decision on Jan. 31 -- to extend the tenure of Hiromu Kurokawa, 63, superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office who was to reach his retirement age, by six months.

Prime Minister Abe told a lower house plenary session on Feb. 13 that the government has decided to interpret the clause in the National Public Service Acts as applicable to prosecutors.

The Public Prosecutor's Office Act stipulates that prosecutors must retire by the age of 63, except for the prosecutor-general, whose retirement age is set at 65, and 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 an official could seriously hinder the execution of public duties. The extension of Kurokawa's tenure is controversial because the No. 2 prosecutor, who had previously served as deputy vice minister and vice minister of justice, is viewed as being close to the prime minister's office, and the extension has effectively opened the way for Kurokawa to assume the post of prosecutor-general, the top prosecution post.

The opposition camp grilled the government in the Feb. 19 session over allegations that it reinterpreted the National Public Service Act clause after the Abe Cabinet decided to extend Kurokawa's tenure.

Shiori Yamao of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) asked the government when it changed its interpretation, to which Justice Minister Masako Mori replied that a final decision was made on Jan. 24. Mori said the Justice Ministry "consulted with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau from Jan. 17 to 21 and the NPA from Jan. 22 to 24," adding that "consensus was reached on Jan. 24."

Mori made the remarks in an apparent attempt to emphasize that the government changed its interpretation of the clause well before the Jan. 31 Cabinet decision.

However, Mori's explanation contradicts with Matsuo's Feb. 12 statements.

The previous interpretation is based on the NPA's statement during deliberations on revisions to the National Public Service Act in 1981 that the clause "does not apply to prosecutors." Matsuo told the Diet on Feb. 12, "The same interpretation has remained intact as there has been no discussion up until now." During the Feb. 19 meeting, Yamao questioned Matsuo over this remark.

In response, Matsuo said, "My use of the word, 'now,' was inappropriate. I retract it." Her disorderly answers continued, as she told the Diet that when she said "Up until now" on Feb. 12, what she meant was "Up to Jan. 22," throwing the deliberations into chaos. She then corrected her Feb. 12 remarks saying, "The same interpretation had been maintained until we were consulted by the Justice Ministry on Jan. 22 because there had been no debate on the matter before then."

When asked why she had to correct it, Matsuo said, "I made a mistake."

Takeshi Shina, an independent legislator belonging to the CDP-led parliamentary alliance, asked Justice Minister Mori over why she failed to explain such an important change in the government's legal interpretation during the Feb. 12 session and other occasions, to which she said, "No question was asked over the reinterpretation." Unconvinced by her response, the opposition camp is poised to further grill the government over the matter.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara, Political News Department)

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