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Editorial: Japanese PM's son's dinner parties with ministry bigwigs hint at deeper rot

It emerged recently that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's eldest son wined and dined executives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. What's more, it is increasingly evident that these executives gave the younger Suga special treatment.

    The prime minister's son works for Tohokushinsha Film Corp., which has interests in broadcasting. He and other Tohokushinsha executives held dinner parties with communications ministry figures a total of 12 times over the past five years, including three times in December last year. The bureaucrats also accepted gifts and taxi tickets at the dinners.

    Suga's son is an executive with a Tohokushinsha subsidiary, which has been certified by the ministry as a broadcasting firm. Under the National Public Service Ethics Code, national civil servants are banned from being entertained by people or companies with interests under their oversight. Surely Suga's son comes under this heading, making it very likely that the ethics code was violated.

    Communication ministry executives have told the National Diet that there have been no similar dinner parties with figures from other broadcasters.

    The prime minister's son was the elder Suga's private secretary when the latter was the communications minister. Prime Minister Suga is even now meddling in the ministry's personnel matters, and wields tremendous personal influence there. It thus seems perfectly natural that the ministry executives would be acutely aware of the PM's shadow as they accepted his son's invitations.

    What cannot be overlooked is the dinner parties last December. These occurred right before the ministry renewed the certification of another Tohokushinsha subsidiary involved in satellite broadcasting.

    Furthermore, the subsidiary employing the junior Suga got ministry certification for its Go and shogi channel about three years ago. It was the only one of the 16 channels submitted by 12 companies certified at the time that did not broadcast in high-definition.

    The certification inspection standards had then just been amended to promote high-definition broadcasting. Yet some channels set to be in high-def were rejected by the ministry even as the standard-definition Go and shogi channel made it through.

    Was there no arrangement in place in the certification standard changes and approvals process that benefited the Tohokushinsha subsidiary? Current communications minister Ryota Takeda has stated that he will mete out penalties over this case at the conclusion of an investigation.

    However, this issue goes deeper than potential violations of the public servant ethics code. It goes to the heart of whether exaggerated consideration of the prime minister and his inner circle's interests is poisoning the just and fair administration of Japan. It is similar in form to the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen school operator favoritism scandals that erupted under the administration of Suga's prime ministerial predecessor Shinzo Abe.

    Prime Minister Suga has insisted that the affairs of his eldest son have nothing to do with him, saying he is a "separate person." However, he cannot be allowed to simply set aside suspicions over his son's dalliances with ministry figures, as they connect directly to the public's trust in politics. He should direct the ruling parties to accept calls for his son and other related parties to appear before the Diet for questioning.

    It is the prime minister's responsibility to reveal the entire issue to the public.

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