Tokyo’s top prosecutor was set to resign after a report that he gambled illegally during Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency, media said on Thursday, in a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose support has been hit over his handling of the pandemic.
Hiromu Kurokawa, the chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, was due to resign, public broadcaster NHK said, citing a source. Other media had similar reports.
Kurokawa was hit with a social media backlash over a media report that he allegedly played mahjong for money during Japan’s state of emergency, potentially flouting social distancing guidelines. Gambling is illegal in Japan, with some exceptions.
Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report or reach anyone at the prosecutors office for comment. No one was immediately available at the justice ministry outside of normal business hours.
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.
Earlier this week, Abe’s government gave up its push to enact a bill during the current session of parliament that would raise prosecutors’ retirement age to 65 from 63, and allow the cabinet to defer retirement of senior prosecutors for a further three years.
Critics said the change threatened judicial independence by allowing government-friendly prosecutors to be kept on.
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.
“Naturally, there will be criticism (over Kurosawa),” independent political analyst Atsuo Ito said. “Certainly, it will be damaging.”
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.
Abe was expected to lift the state of emergency in more regions on Thursday as new infections decline, moving to resume sorely needed economic activity.
Japan has not had the explosive surge seen in many other countries, with 16,433 confirmed cases including 784 deaths as of Wednesday, according to NHK.