Influence peddling scandal: how Suga found himself in the hot seat

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga faces a growing scandal following revelations that his eldest son – Seigo, an executive at a company involved in satellite broadcasting – defeated and dined bureaucrats at the Communications Ministry. So far, the ministry has found that 13 officials have been tasted and dined 39 times by representatives of the broadcasting company, including 21 times when Seigo Suga was present.

On Monday, a ministry investigation found that in addition to four previously appointed senior officials, eight others – including the current Cabinet public relations secretary – have accepted Seigo Suga’s hospitality. These revelations have once again raised questions about influence peddling at the highest levels of government and become a major political issue for the prime minister, even though he insists he had no knowledge of the activities of the government. his son.

How did the scandal break out?

Earlier this month, the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun published a report that Seigo Suga, who turns 40 this year, ate and dined four senior officials of the Ministry of Interior and Communications and gave them food and other small gifts such as taxi vouchers. and chocolates. Officials included Yoshinori Akimoto, director general of the Bureau of Information and Communications, and Hironobu Yumoto, deputy director of the same body, as well as Yasuhiko Taniwaki and Mabito Yoshida, deputy ministers for policy coordination.

Young Suga works for a subsidiary of Tohokushinsha Film Corp., which is involved in satellite broadcasting services, and the Ministry of Communication issues broadcasting licenses to companies involved in these services. Under the National Civil Service Ethics Act, public servants are prohibited from being entertained or receiving gifts from persons with interests in matters related to their duties. Seigo Suga’s hospitality raises the question of whether the bureaucrats broke the law, as well as whether they met him because his father is the prime minister.

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How did Yoshihide Suga and the ministry react?

In questioning the Diet on February 4, the prime minister said he knew nothing about his son’s victory and dinner with the bureaucrats. In what appeared to be impromptu and emotional remarks, he also stated that Seigo Suga was his own man and that he did not follow his son’s activities.

The ministry said it was conducting an internal investigation into the case. In the Diet testimony of February 17, Akimoto said the dinners were gatherings of people from the Tohoku area. He reiterated earlier claims that he did not recall whether conversations over satellite broadcast services had taken place during the conversations.

But Akimoto was forced to switch accounts just two days later, after Shukan Bunshun posted an audiotape of a conversation with Seigo Suga. He then admitted to discussing satellite broadcasting services with the prime minister’s son, and also said he recognized young Suga as someone with business interests related to the ministry. Taniwaki and Yoshida, however, told the Diet on Monday that they did not recognize Seigo Suga as a person of interest related to their official duties.

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In an unusual move, the ministry transferred Akimoto and Yumoto from their jobs last week. Communications Minister Ryota Takeda told the Diet the transfers were unrelated to the scandal and insisted that the dinners with Seigo had no effect on the ministry’s administration of broadcast licenses by satellite.

How does Seigo Suga relate to the ministry?

Seigo Suga was previously employed as secretary to his father, who served as Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication in 2006 and 2007, while Seigo Suga looked after with ministry officials on a daily basis. Later, Seigo Suga joined Tohokushinsha and was promoted to a managerial position in the subsidiary involved in satellite broadcasting.

Yoshinori Akimoto (left), then director general of the Information and Communications Office of the Ministry of Interior and Communications, walks past Communications Minister Ryota Takeda to address a session of the Budget Committee of the Lower House in Tokyo on Friday. | KYODO

On Friday, the ministry’s investigation revealed that Seigo Suga had dined with the four bureaucrats, a couple of whom he first met in 2006 when his father was a minister, a total of 12 times between 2016 and 2020. On Monday, the scandal widened further. as the ministry said, nine other bureaucrats had been entertained by Seigo Suga.

In total, 13 people have met Seigo Suga at least 39 times. The bureaucrats involved are expected to be formally reprimanded on Wednesday. While the first four received taxi vouchers in addition to meals, the ministry said on Monday that the others had not received any gifts. Seigo Suga denied doing anything improper, according to the ministry.

What were the political fallouts for the Prime Minister?

A poll by Kyodo News on February 6 and 7, immediately after the first report to Shukan Bunshun, showed that 62% of those polled were unhappy with Yoshihide Suga’s response to the scandal. The prime minister’s overall support rate was 38.8%, the first time he had fallen below 40% in a Kyodo poll.

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The opposition continues to hammer home the issue and calls are increasing for Seigo Suga himself to testify at the Diet. So far, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition has rejected these calls.

During Monday’s Diet session, the prime minister apologized for his son’s involvement in violations of the civil servants’ code of ethics. But one of the 13 people named Monday as the recipient of Seigo Suga’s hospitality is Makiko Yamada, cabinet public relations secretary and a former senior communications ministry official. She met Seigo Suga in November 2019 while still in the ministry, and he took his ¥ 74,000 bill at a dinner party.

Given Yamada’s closeness to the Prime Minister, his involvement means questions about Yoshihide Suga’s knowledge of what his son was doing are likely to grow.

In addition, the loss of top officials such as Taniwaki, who strongly supported Suga’s efforts to reduce mobile phone costs, could prove detrimental to the achievement of what is a key Suga goal – especially since Taniwaki was to be promoted to a high level position. this summer.

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