Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was grilled in parliament on Monday by the opposition bloc over Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase's remarks that gifts were provided to International Olympic Committee members during the bid to host the Tokyo Games.
The comments made by the former lawmaker, who belongs to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and headed its Tokyo Olympic bidding promotion committee, have caused ripples as he said he used the Cabinet Secretariat's discretionary funds, known as "secret funds," for the gifts for the IOC members.
Revelations over the use of the funds, which are not made public, are very rare. If the IOC members, who had the voting rights to choose an Olympic host city, did receive gifts from Japan, it would violate the organization's code of ethics.
After he made the remarks in his speech on Nov. 17 in Tokyo, Hase, a professional wrestler-turned-politician and former sports minister, issued a statement saying, "They were inappropriate and could cause misunderstandings, so I completely retract them."
In the speech, Hase said that when Japan was bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had told him to "make sure we win" and "we will give you as much money as you want as there are secret funds."
Hase said he created albums costing 200,000 yen ($1,342) each for about 100 IOC members, containing photos from their athletic careers and other relevant information, while saying he "traveled around the world with the gifts.
At a parliamentary session on Monday, a lawmaker of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, urged Kishida to assume responsibility for investigating Hase's comments and reporting the findings to the Diet.
Kishida said in response, "I would like to think about concrete responses after carefully considering the circumstances surrounding the retraction" of the governor's remarks.
IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters last week that he was unaware of such comments made by Hase. In 2013, Tokyo secured the 2020 Summer Olympics, but due to the global spread of the novel coronavirus, the event was postponed for a year.
Hase's remarks are expected to deal another blow to Kishida's Cabinet, for which approval ratings have plunged to their lowest levels since it was launched in October 2021 against a backdrop of several scandals by government and ruling party officials.