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More wining and dining of Japanese ministry officials surfaces in broadcaster's probe

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications sign is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A special investigation panel set up by broadcasting firm Tohokushinsha Film Corp. has turned up several more occasions where its employees dined with senior communications ministry officials beyond those already uncovered by an internal ministry probe, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    Tohokushinsha is suspected to have treated Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications officials to lavish meals to curry favor over the approval of satellite channels.

    Following an in-house investigation, the ministry reported in February this year that 13 officials including the then policy coordination vice-minister dined with executives of Tohokushinsha and its subsidiary a total of 39 times. Of the 13, 11 were subject to disciplinary actions including pay cuts and warnings for violating provisions of the National Public Service Ethics Code.

    However, after the firm's investigative panel headed by lawyer Shinichiro Inoue and established that February interviewed employees and used digital forensic methods to analyze company emails, it confirmed other dining sessions not included in the 39 occasions listed by the ministry. A source close to the firm told the Mainichi that several senior ministry officials who have been handed disciplinary measures are suspected to have been entertained by former Tohokushinsha executive Yukio Kida, removed from the position in February, and other employees on multiple occasions. The company plans to release the panel's finding in the near future.

    In January 2017, the communications ministry approved Tohokushinsha's "The Cinema 4K" satellite channel. Under the Broadcasting Act, satellite businesses in Japan need to limit their foreign investment ratio with voting power to no more than 20%. According to the firm, a representative noticed on Aug. 4, 2017 that this ratio was over 20%. They apparently informed the ministry of the regulation violation five days later and told them that it would resolve the breach by having its subsidiary take over the satellite channel business. The ministry approved the plan on Oct. 13 that year.

    The source said that around the time of the ministry's approval, Tohokushinsha's Kida and the ministry's then satellite and area broadcasting division chief in charge of satellite business licensing dined together. The company wanted to hold a congratulatory gathering for the chief when they assumed the position in July that same year, but as this never happened, they apparently rescheduled it for around the time as the ministry's approval. Those attending the gathering reportedly talked about baseball, and the firm later invited the chief to a professional baseball game. Both the meal and game were covered by Tohokushinsha.

    The communication ministry's internal probe found that this division chief was treated to meals five times, worth about 61,000 yen ($560) total, by Tohokushinsha between February 2019 and August 2020, and was slapped with a pay cut for one month. The then chief told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I cannot comment on whether I dined (with Tohokushinsha executives). I was not aware of the company violating the foreign fund regulation before their business was approved."

    (Japanese original by Kazuya Shimura and Yujiro Futamura, Tokyo City News Department)

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