May 20, 2020 / 11:24 PM / in 7 days

Tokyo top prosecutor quits, justice minister says, in blow to Japan's Abe

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo’s top prosecutor resigned on Thursday for gambling during Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency, the justice minister said, in another blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose support has waned over his handling of the pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures alongside Shigeru Omi, president of the Japan Community Healthcare Organization during a news conference as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Tokyo, Japan, May 14, 2020. Akio Kon/Pool via REUTERS

Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office chief Hiromu Kurokawa, who is seen as close to Abe, has been at the centre of a furore over the government’s efforts to raise the retirement age for prosecutors after he was allowed to stay in his post beyond retirement age of 63.

Abe’s government this week abandoned its push to enact a bill during the current session of parliament that would raise prosecutors’ retirement age to 65 from 63, and let the cabinet defer retirement of senior prosecutors for a further three years, a step critics said threatened judicial independence.

Opposition party lawmakers and others also said the legislation was aimed at giving a retroactive legal basis to the decision to keep Kurokawa in his post.

Kurokawa admitted playing mahjong for money on two occasions during the state of emergency, when citizens have been asked to follow social distancing guidelines and avoid unnecessary outings, Justice Minister Masako Mori told reporters. She said the cabinet would approve his resignation on Friday.

“It was truly regrettable,” Mori said.

Gambling is illegal in Japan, with some exceptions.

“Naturally, there will be criticism (over Kurokawa),” independent political analyst Atsuo Ito said. “Certainly, it will be damaging.”

Also on Thursday, about 660 lawyers and scholars filed a complaint with Tokyo prosecutors seeking an investigation into whether Abe and two executives of his political support group broke campaign and funding laws by subsidising the attendance of backers at a reception the night before a state-funded cherry blossom viewing party in 2018, Kyodo news agency reported.

Abe has denied wrongdoing. He was also accused by opposition lawmakers last year of favouring supporters with invitations to the cherry blossom viewing party.

Public support for Abe has slipped over what critics say is his clumsy handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has tipped the world’s third largest economy into recession.

Japan lifted its state of emergency in more regions on Thursday as new infections decline, acting to resume sorely needed economic activity.

Japan has not suffered the explosive surge of infections seen in many other countries, with 16,433 confirmed cases including 784 deaths as of Wednesday, according to NHK.

Reporting by David Dolan and Linda Sieg; Editing by Stephen Coates and Mark Heinrich

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