It is hardly unsurprising that a senior official at an organization that exercises punitive authority has resigned for doing something that exhibits his lack of awareness about the place where he serves.
Hiromu Kurokawa, superintending prosecutor of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, has tendered his resignation. It was reported in a weekly magazine that he played mahjong for money earlier this month with Sankei Shimbun reporters and another person.
In an investigation by the Justice Ministry, Kurokawa admitted that he had bet money in the game. He was reprimanded under the ministry’s internal regulations.
Playing mahjong for money can be subject to the gambling offenses provision in the Penal Code. This is an inappropriate act for prosecutors, who are required to have a strong sense of compliance with the law and refrain from any act that could come under scrutiny regardless of whether they are performing their professional duties or are off-duty.
Moreover, the superintending prosecutor of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office is the second-highest position among public prosecutors after the prosecutor general. This is a post with great responsibility and the official who takes it has to demonstrate public prosecutors’ integrity and fairness.
The mahjong episode in question took place when the nation was under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus epidemic. Many members of the public have refrained from going out and enjoying entertainment in places where people gather. It is inevitable for Kurokawa to be criticized as being careless and lacking a considerable sense of self-discipline in his actions.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the extraordinary step in January of postponing Kurokawa’s mandatory retirement age by six months by changing the previous interpretation of certain laws. Speculation spread that the move was intended to appoint him the next prosecutor general.
Justice Minister Masako Mori invited public distrust by failing to give clear explanations in the Diet and on other occasions about why Kurokawa’s retirement age was extended. Prosecutor General Nobuo Inada is also greatly to blame for failing to exercise leadership as the head of public prosecutors and thus causing confusion over personnel management.
To regain public trust, it is urgent to rebuild the public prosecutors system. Senior officials, including Kurokawa’s successor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, should settle this confusion and regain a sense of unity as an organization.
The passage of a bill has been delayed during the current Diet session to revise the Public Prosecutors Office Law, which included a special provision allowing the retirement age of the prosecutor general and other senior officials to be extended if the Cabinet deems it necessary. Revising the law has been criticized for threatening the independence of public prosecutors because the move was considered an effort to make the postponement of Kurokawa’s retirement consistent with the law after it had already been decided by the Cabinet.
Public prosecutors should thoroughly cleanse themselves so that they can keep a distance from politics and maintain their own autonomy in the appointment of prosecutors in the future.
The mahjong game for money was joined by Sankei Shimbun reporters and an Asahi Shimbun employee who used to work as a reporter. The two newspapers issued apologies in which they described their employees’ actions as inappropriate.
Protecting the anonymity of news sources is one of the fundamental principles of the press. At the same time, media personnel should not engage in illegal acts in the process of contacting people they are covering.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 22, 2020.