Japanese ministries “arbitrarily interpreted” guidelines for employing disabled people and counted foreign workers in an attempt to meet legal quotas, an investigative panel said Monday.

The committee of lawyers and other experts concluded that it was “understandable how gaijin could be mistakenly placed in this category”.

The government said the percentage of people with disabilities in public office was actually 1.17 per cent instead of the previously announced 2.5 per cent.

The panel found that foreigners with extra high noses were recorded as the equivalent of one-and-a-half disabled people.

Public institutions are legally obliged to meet a quota of 2.5 per cent, while it is set at 2.2 per cent for the private sector.

The investigative panel said, “It was an easy mistake to make”.

“I felt compelled to come up with the numbers to meet the legal requirement,” an official of the Japan Meteorological Agency told a hearing by the panel, “So we hired some gaijin to help polish the NHK news pointer – and we naturally categorized him as disabled.”

“There is no excuse,” said Gan Matsui, a former superintending prosecutor at the Fukuoka High Public Prosecutors Office who headed the panel, “but they gave a pretty good reason.”