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Gov't offers no proof of when it reinterpreted law to extend 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 -- The Ministry of Justice reported on Feb. 21 that there is no written proof of when the government created a document reinterpreting legislation to extend the tenure of Japan's No. 2 public prosecutor beyond the mandatory retirement age of 63.

The ministry's report to the Diet came in response to opposition parties' demand that the government supply proof of when it changed its interpretation of legislation to allow the extension of the retirement age of Hiromu Kurokawa, superintending prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office. Kurokawa is viewed as being close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, and the reinterpretation has effectively opened the way for Kurokawa to be promoted to the position of Japan's top prosecutor in the future.

"There is no existing documentation that can prove the date and time of the creation (of the government document)," said an official of the Justice Ministry during a directors meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Feb. 21.

At an earlier directors meeting on Feb. 20, the Justice Ministry and others presented a document showing the government's views at the time of its reinterpretation of the National Public Service Act to allow for the postponement of Kurokawa's retirement. However, as the document did not include the date, the opposition bloc raised questions about the credibility of the text.

The opposition camp suspects that the government retrospectively changed its legal interpretation after the Cabinet on Jan. 31 approved extending Kurokawa's tenure by six months until Aug. 7, 2020. On Feb. 21, the opposition made a renewed demand to the ruling bloc for proof of when the government reinterpreted the law.

The government document provided to the Diet panel defends the Cabinet decision, stating that "it is only natural for the provisions of the National Public Service Act to be applied" to extend the mandatory retirement of a prosecutor.

While 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 no more than one year if the retirement of the officials could seriously hinder the execution of public duties.

At the directors meeting of the lower house budget committee on Feb. 21, a Justice Ministry bureaucrat explained that the government document in question was "verbally" approved without signatures or seals of those with authority to approve it. The official said that because of this, "There is no cover of any sort (bearing the date of approval), nor is there any other proof of the date and time." The official then presented a document stating that the Justice Ministry delivered the document covering the government's views on its legal reinterpretation to the National Personnel Authority (NPA) on Jan. 22 and that it received a written reply from the NPA on Jan. 24.

The government has insisted that it changed its legal interpretation on Jan. 24. The Justice Ministry apparently released the latest document to demonstrate that it changed its interpretation of the law after going through due procedures, such as consultation with the NPA, before the extension of Kurokawa's tenue was approved by the Cabinet on Jan. 31.

The opposition parties, however, suspect that the government hastily changed its legal interpretation following the Cabinet decision, after discrepancies between the government's previous interpretation of the relevant legislation and its new interpretation surfaced.

Jun Azumi, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), met with Hiroshi Moriyama, his counterpart of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on Feb. 21 and demanded once again that the ruling party submit papers attesting to its claim that the government went through procedures to change its interpretation of the law ahead of the Jan. 31 Cabinet decision. Azumi told Moriyama that, unless the ruling party submits evidential papers by the morning of Feb. 26, the day when the budget panel is set to hold intensive deliberations, "the question and answer sessions cannot be started easily."

The CDP is poised to grill the administration over what the Justice Ministry calls "verbal approval" of the government document. The Cabinet Secretariat's document management rules stipulate that "matters that have particular reasons, such as those requiring urgency, can be processed verbally." However, a person close to the opposition camp snapped at the suggestion this rule could be applied, saying, "Personnel matters require no urgency. There is no way government documents can be orally approved, and this cannot be called a formal approval."

(Japanese original by Minami Nomaguchi, Political News Department)

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