Senior official close to Suga ousted from job in ethics scandal

©Kyodo News

A senior official with close ties to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was ousted from his position on Monday after the communications ministry acknowledged he was treated to expensive meals by a telecom giant recognized as a stakeholder.

Yasuhiko Taniwaki, who was a vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry, highly likely violated Japan's ethics code for government officials by accepting the meals, worth a total of about 107,000 yen ($987), on three occasions between September 2018 and July 2020.

The ministry identified Taniwaki's wrongdoing in an interim report on its investigation into a wine-and-dine scandal involving Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.

The scandal, first reported by a weekly magazine last week, followed a similar one that also involved Taniwaki, who played a pivotal role in helping Suga fulfill his political promise of lowering mobile phone fees in the country.

Along with 10 other officials, Taniwaki was reprimanded by the ministry late last month for violating the code after being treated to lavish dinners from executives of Tohokushinsha Film Corp. including Suga's eldest son.

"It is extremely regrettable that acts that are suspected to be violations have been confirmed again," Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda said at a press conference.

The National Public Service Ethics Law prohibits government officials from receiving favors from companies in sectors they regulate and stipulates that meals expected to cost more than 10,000 yen must be declared in advance.

Following its probe into the first scandal involving Tohokushinsha, the ministry had said that there were no further violations of the code.

NTT, a technology and communications titan in Japan, is subject to the ministry's supervision.

As of Monday, Taniwaki was moved to the minister's secretariat, pending a formal decision on his punishment.