TOKYO — A top Japanese prosecutor seen as close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe submitted his resignation Thursday after a magazine reported he gambled on mahjong by evading a stay-at-home request during a coronavirus state of emergency.
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.
Justice Minister Masako Mori told reporters that Korokawa was reprimanded after an investigation confirmed the allegations against him. Kurokawa submitted his resignation, which will be formally approved by the Cabinet on Friday, Mori said.
Playing mahjong for money, as head of the high prosecutors office, is "extremely inappropriate and regrettable," Mori said.
Gambling in illegal in Japan, with few exceptions. Evading a stay-at-home request is not.
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. The opponents also criticized Abe's government for spending on such a bill when it should be working on support measures for those who have lost jobs or income under the state of emergency.
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.
Later Thursday, Abe said he seriously took the public criticism against the bill. (asterisk)It is indispensable that we listen to the people's opinions," he said.
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.
Tokyo has been under a coronavirus emergency, with people requested to stay home and keep social distancing.