TOKYO (AP) — Justice Ministry officials are investigating a gambling scandal involving a top Japanese prosecutor seen as close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after a magazine reported he evaded a stay-at-home request to play mahjong.
The scandal involving Hiromu Kurokawa, head of the Tokyo High Prosecutors Office, surfaced Wednesday after the popular weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun said he played mahjong for money at the home of a newspaper reporter twice in May.
Japanese media reported that Kurokawa had admitted to the scandal and expressed his intention to resign.
Kurokawa is at the center of a highly controversial bill pushed by Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party that seeks to extend the mandatory retirement age of public prosecutors while allowing the Cabinet to influence their appointment.
In January, Abe’s Cabinet delayed Kurokawa’s scheduled February retirement by altering the interpretation of the law, the first ever extension of a prosecutor’s retirement. Opponents have said the extension is meant to keep Kurokawa so that he can replace the current prosecutor-general who is set to retire this summer.
Abe’s government decided to withdraw the bill after a storm of protests on social networks criticizing Abe for interfering with democracy. Artists and celebrities who rarely make political statements have joined in, focusing more public attention on the issue.
Former prosecutors also came forward to demand the Justice Ministry throw out the bill that would allow political influence over them, shaking their neutrality and public trust.
Abe has consistently denied any favoritism or personal ties with Kurokawa.
The unpopular bill and the gambling scandal could deal a further setback for Abe, whose support ratings have fallen below 40% as the public has been increasingly displeased with his economic support amid the coronavirus pandemic as too little and too slow.
On Thursday, Abe said the Justice Ministry was looking into Kurokawa's reported scandal and that he could not comment.
Tokyo has been under a coronavirus state of emergency, with people requested to stay home and keep social distancing.
Justice Minister Masako Mori said Thursday she planned to discuss what to do with Kurokawa.
“It’s extremely regrettable if what’s in the article is true,” she told NHK.
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