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Digital Agency exec punished, minister returns salary over dining

Japanese digitalization minister Takuya Hirai speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on Sept. 24, 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A senior Digital Agency official was reprimanded Friday over repeated wining and dining by a private company, and digitalization minister Takuya Hirai will voluntarily return a month's salary after joining the official for one of the meals, the top government spokesman said.

    Of three occasions on which Koichi Akaishi, the No. 2 bureaucrat of the recently launched agency, was wined and dined, two matched days that Hirai reportedly had dinner with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. executives. An NTT subsidiary is a supplier of software used by the Cabinet Secretariat.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Hirai was present at one of the three dinners and the minister was taking responsibility over Akaishi's public service ethics code violation even though he was not the bureaucrat's supervisor at the time.

    Earlier this year, Hirai admitted to dining with NTT executives last year but said he and the officials who accompanied him paid for their meals and did not violate the ethics code.

    Kato did not give the name of the company involved. If Akaishi's punishment relates partly to the dinner attended by Hirai, it would conflict with the latter's claim that the agency officials paid for their meals.

    The scandal could hurt public trust in the agency that was launched on Sept. 1 as part of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's drive to digitalize local and central government services in Japan.

    Akaishi was subjected to a pay cut for being treated to three meals worth 120,000 yen ($1,087) on Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and Dec. 4 last year in violation of the ethics code, according to the agency.

    A magazine reported in June that Hirai had dinners with NTT executives on Oct. 2 and Dec. 4.

    The ethics code prohibits receiving favors from stakeholders as well as excessive treatment from non-stakeholders.

    The latest punishment comes after Japan was rocked by a wining-and-dining scandal earlier this year, with dozens of officials at the communications ministry reprimanded.

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