Japan's Abe, justice minister under pressure as top prosecutor quits for gambling

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TOKYO, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Justice Minister Masako Mori came under pressure from opposition party members Friday to take account for a scandal involving Japan's second-highest ranking prosecutor gambling during the the coronavirus state of emergency.

The pair have also come under fire for Hiromu Kurokawa, former head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, allegedly favored by Abe and his administration, being allowed to stay in his post beyond the retirement age for prosecutors.

"I have been entrusted with stopping the spread of coronavirus, and protecting the health and lives of the people as well as employment and businesses," Abe told a parliamentary committee, having said he has no plans to step down to account for the scandals.

"It will be a very difficult road ahead, but I've come to the conclusion that there can't be a delay in implementing judicial policy," Mori, for her part, told a press briefing on the matter, having sough the opinion of Abe who supported her staying on in her role.

The opposition camp, however, have accused the pair of not assuming their political responsibility over the ordeals.

Jun Azumi, from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said that neither Abe nor Mori had "assumed political responsibility at all."

Kurokawa's resignation was formally approved by the Cabinet on Friday, a day after he tendered his resignation after admitting he played mahjong for money with reporters on multiple occasions during the coronavirus state of emergency.

The senior prosecutor played mahjong on May 1 and May 13 for money with two reporters working for the Sankei Shimbun newspaper and an employee from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, according to a scoop carried in the online edition of the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine on Wednesday, prior to the print version being released the following day.

Reports claim that Kurokawa played mahjong a total of four times with the reporters after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the state of emergency for Tokyo and several other prefectures on April 7.

The emergency period was then expanded to the whole country and officially extended to the end of May. It is still effective for Tokyo and neighboring regions as well as Hokkaido, with social distancing measures still in place, as well as stay-at-home requests, to further curb the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.

Mori described Kurokawa's actions as being "truly inappropriate and extremely regrettable." She added that he had been formally admonished for his wrongdoing.

Kurokawa, for his part, said in a statement that he was "deeply reflecting on his thoughtless actions."

Kurokawa hit the headlines in January when the Cabinet permitted him to remain in his post despite having reaching the retirement age of 63 for prosecutors.

Amid criticism of his tenure being extended past the retirement age, a possible breach of the law regarding the Public Prosecutors Office, the government along with the ruling coalition set about trying to push legislation to revise the law to raise the retirement age for prosecutors to 65.

The controversial move, seen as favoritism towards Kurokawa as it would allow him to at some point become the nation's highest ranking prosecutor, was met with a harsh backlash of condemnation from opposition parties and the public.

On Monday, Abe decided to postpone the seeking of passage of the contentious bill aimed at extending the retirement age of public prosecutors.

Many opposed to the bill believe the move would have led to the undermining of the independence of prosecutors and could lead to the partisan appointment of personnel being made by the government.

The Japanese hashtag meaning "I oppose the revision of the public prosecutors office law" began trending on Twitter from May 8 and has attracted wide swathes of public support as well as increasing support from influential celebrities.

As for Kurokawa's gambling gaffe leading to his wish to resign, the former top prosecutor could be facing criminal charges and slapped with a fine of up to 500,000 yen (4,600 U.S. dollars), as Japanese law prohibits unauthorized gambling. Enditem

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