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Editorial: Gambling scandal involving Japan's No. 2 prosecutor disgraceful

Hiromu Kurokawa, chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, has resigned just months after the Cabinet raised his retirement age in an unprecedented move.

Kurokawa, the second-highest-ranking prosecutor in Japan, acknowledged a report in the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine that he played mahjong for money with reporters earlier this month, while the nation remained under a state of emergency over the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Playing mahjong for money is an act that could violate the country's anti-gambling laws. Moreover, Kurokawa's move came after mahjong parlors had been asked to suspend their operations over fears of spreading the coronavirus.

The chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office ranks No. 2 among the nation's public prosecutors, who have practically exclusive jurisdiction over whether to indict suspects. This is a serious case of misconduct damaging the public's trust in public prosecutors and his resignation is only natural.

Kurokawa is said to have received an admonitory warning, but prosecutors and judicial authorities must thoroughly investigate the matter and strictly deal with it.

Prosecutor-general Nobuo Inada, Japan's top public prosecutor, had a responsibility to supervise Kurokawa, which he cannot evade, and he should also step down. The resignation of Justice Minister Masako Mori is also probably warranted, when simultaneously considering the recent confusion in the Diet over the move to raise the retirement age of high-ranking prosecutors.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a Cabinet decision to raise Kurokawa's retirement age on the grounds that his leadership, grounded in his rich experience and knowledge, was indispensable when handling investigations and trials relating to serious and complicated crimes. Abe had stressed that the Cabinet had appointive power over senior prosecutors as administrative officials.

The latest scandal occurred while Kurokawa remained in office due to the raising of his retirement age, and while debate over a revision to the Public Prosecutor's Office Act was being deliberated. This disgraceful situation is the outcome of an unprecedented personnel move, and the prime minister's responsibility is extremely heavy.

The actions of the reporters involved are also inexcusable. Even if their intention was to gather news material, that does not mean they can use a method whose legality would be questioned. This is rather a time when society as a whole should be focusing on measures against the novel coronavirus.

The latest scandal will not end with Kurokawa's resignation.

In the past, the government had continued to interpret provisions in the National Public Service Act on the extension of retirement as not applying to public prosecutors. It said that it changed its interpretation before the Cabinet raised Kurokawa's retirement age, but there have been no convincing explanations regarding the concrete background to this change.

Suspicions remain that the proposed amendment to the Public Prosecutor's Office Act that would enable the retirement age of senior public prosecutors to be raised at the discretion of the Cabinet was designed to retroactively justify the personnel change applying to Kurokawa.

Even in deliberations in the Diet, reservations that the change would allow the administration's arbitrary interference in the personnel affairs of public prosecutors have not been resolved.

The government remains adamant about having the amendment passed during an extraordinary session of the Diet this autumn, but in the light of this scandal, the proposed revision with its problematic special provisions should be retracted.

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