The Japanese farm ministry has punished six senior officials, including its top bureaucrat, for accepting expensive meals with a former head of a major egg producer who has been indicted for bribery.
The development could deal a further blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration, which is already under fire over a similar scandal involving other elite bureaucrats who were wined and dined by Suga’s eldest son and other businesspeople.
The government has already seen its approval ratings tumble over public dissatisfaction with its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among those punished, Vice Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masaaki Edamoto, the highest-ranking government employee at the ministry, and two others were given a 10% salary cut for one month.
The remaining three officials were subjected to reprimands or other disciplinary actions, while a now retired official was not subject to punishment. Current farm minister Kotaro Nogami has decided to voluntarily return one month of his Cabinet salary.
The penalties for the farm ministry officials came after the communications ministry on Wednesday reprimanded 11 officials for lavish meals paid for by officials of a broadcasting company including Suga’s eldest son.
Former farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa, who is close to Suga, was also wined and dined by Yoshiki Akita, a representative of Akita Foods Co. Last month Yoshikawa was indicted without arrest for receiving a total of ¥5 million from Akita.
“I would like to once again sincerely apologize for making the public lose faith in the ministry’s administration,” Nogami said at a news conference Thursday.
The ministry’s internal probe found seven officials had dined with Akita in either or both October 2018 and September 2019 in violation of the national public service ethics law, which bans receiving favors from stakeholders. The ministry said Akita footed the bills for all of the meals that cost around ¥20,000 per person.
While in office, Yoshikawa received money from Akita between November 2018 and August 2019. He has resigned from the House of Representatives, citing a chronic heart problem.
Although some of the punished officials were aware that Akita would be present at the meals, they failed to report to the ministry in advance.
Akita, who served as an industry body executive, is known for having lobbied lawmakers and farm ministry officials to ease strict international animal welfare standards and expand a government program to cover farmers’ losses when egg prices fall sharply.