Tokyo Prosecutor Resigns After Breaking Social Distancing Rules to Gamble

  • Hiromu Kurokawa ignored social distancing guidelines by attending two mahjong sessions 
  • Could also be facing criminal charges as Japan's laws prohibit unauthorized forms of gambling
  • Offense took place during declared national state of emergency amid COVID-19 outbreak
  • Rumors also emerged that government has Kurokawa lined up to succeed soon-to-retire Prosecutor General
Chinese tile game mahjong
Hiromu Kurokawa ignored social distancing guidelines by attending two mahjong sessions during Japan’s declared state of emergency. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The latest blow for the government

Hiromu Kurokawa, the second-highest ranked prosecutor in Japan, has quit after admittedly ignoring COVID-19 social distancing guidelines by visiting a house in May to gamble. The head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office tendered his resignation on Thursday, with the Cabinet approving it on Friday. 

The news comes at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approach to the pandemic response has been harshly criticized. There have also been a number of other scandals in recent years that have marred public bodies in Japan.

The offense in question

According to the Shukan Bunshun newspaper report, Kurokawa played the Chinese tile game mahjong along with a number of reporters on May 1 and May 13. The gambling sessions took place at one of the reporter’s houses. It is alleged that the group has been playing a number of times each month for the past three years. 

Kurokawa could also be facing criminal charges as the country’s laws prohibit unauthorized forms of gambling. The fine for such an offense can be as high as ¥500,000 ($4,651). However, one-off infractions involving smaller betting sizes are usually treated as exceptions. 

could also be facing criminal charges

The gambling took place during the state of emergency declared in Japan in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Since April 7, residents are required to stay in their homes and non-essential businesses remain closed to try stop the spread of the virus. 

Japan newspapers Asahi Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun ran the story on Friday morning, acknowledging that some of their employees were gambling during these sessions. They apologized to the public for the transgressions.

Not the first Kurokawa controversy

Kurokawa was at the center of another controversy in January. The country’s cabinet let him stay in his job despite him turning 63, which is the retirement age for prosecutors. There were rumors that he was being lined up by the government to be the successor of the Prosecutor General Nobuo Inada, who is set to retire this coming July. 

cabinet let him stay in his job despite him turning 63

The government considered increasing the specified retirement age to 66 for high-ranking officials if they wished to keep working. There was a lot of backlash from the public amid concerns that this would muddy the separation of the judiciary and the executive. Critics believe such a move violates laws relating to public prosecutors. The planned legislation has been abandoned for now. 

High-profile gambling scandal

It was at the close of 2019 that a number of government officials were embroiled in another gambling scandal that involved a number of officials receiving kickbacks from 500.com Ltd. Allegedly, the China-based gambling company was looking to earn favor when it came to handing out coveted casino licenses in Japan. 

House of Representatives member Tsukasa Akimoto was the alleged recipient of a number of bribes. He was hit with a number of bribery charges, with others involved also facing indictment charges.

There are still plans to proceed with the issuance of these casino licenses despite the fallout from the scandal.