Amid reports of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications executives being wined and dined by staff at major Japanese firms, Jun Sawada, president and CEO of telecoms giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT), and Tohokushinsha Film Corp. President Shinya Nakajima both appeared as witnesses in front of the House of Councillors' Budget Committee.
Although both company presidents apologized, there has been no progress in clearing away suspicion.
According to Nakajima's explanations, Tohokushinsha applied for a satellite broadcasting permit in 2016, despite having a foreign investment ratio exceeding the 20% limit set by the Broadcasting Act on satellite broadcasting businesses in Japan. Reportedly, the company realized the error the following year, and informed a department head at the communications ministry.
If true, it means illegal issues were overlooked. But the communications ministry official is apparently maintaining that they have no memory of being furnished with the report described.
During this period, top officials and others at the communications ministry were wined and dined by Tohokushinsha employees including Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's eldest son, who works at the firm. The point of suspicion is whether illegality was overlooked in return for the entertainment.
Senior government officials must have drawn up records of their meetings with private firms. If they are to deny wrongdoing, they should work to dispel suspicions about them by releasing the records.
On the issue of wining and dining by NTT, it has recently emerged that two senior communications ministry officials at the time were treated by Sawada.
While Sawada acknowledged that they had dined together three times, he explained that they did not discuss business-related requests or favors. In response to questions about the timing of the meetings, which coincided with a reduction on mobile phone prices, Sawada denied any connection. Regarding the turning of mobile carrier NTT Docomo into a wholly-owned subsidiary, he maintained, "I did not speak to anyone about insider information."
The NTT wining and dining issue is spreading to former ministers of internal affairs and communications. But in response to questions as to whether they had dined with Sawada, both Prime Minister Suga and the incumbent communications minister Ryota Takeda have only said, "We would never join in dinner meetings that would invite the suspicion of the people."
They should themselves clarify what took place at these meetings. If that is not done, then the people have no way of deciding whether there are grounds for suspicion.
The communications ministry is reportedly set to create a third-party investigative committee within the week. At the National Diet, too, pursuit of the issue must continue even after deliberations on the draft budget.
Prime Minister Suga has cultivated his power as a politician with strong influence over the communications ministry. Amid that, overweening concern with reading the wishes of the prime minister has emerged, and created suspicion that government processes might be being warped.
The prime minister should take active steps to clear up the chain of suspicions, including summoning his eldest son to the National Diet.