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Parties preparing for testimony of key man in document scandal

  • March 14, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 10:05 p.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — Japan’s main ruling and opposition parties agreed Wednesday to work toward summoning to the Diet a key figure in the alteration of Finance Ministry documents related to the controversial sale of state-owned land at a discounted price.


Senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan confirmed that former National Tax Agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa could be summoned to appear in parliament “if (deemed) necessary,” an opposition lawmaker said.


The move to summon Sagawa comes amid the continuing scandal over the dubious land sale in Osaka to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife is suspected of involvement.


While Abe’s LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito have agreed to the opposition demand in order to break the current gridlock in parliament deliberations, they remain reluctant for Akie Abe to appear in parliament to testify as a sworn witness. The ruling bloc has been arguing that she was not involved in the document falsification.


The opposition camp has insisted she needs to appear in the Diet to explain her side. They have also called for Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign to take responsibility for the scandal, which has attracted fresh attention since early this month.


Sagawa, who resigned over the land transaction scandal on Friday, is under pressure for allegedly making false remarks to parliament while serving as chief of the ministry’s Financial Bureau in charge of overseeing the land sale.


The opposition camp has demanded that Sagawa appear at the Diet to make clear why the settlement documents were rewritten and whether the ministry was urged to do so by politicians.


Aso maintains that some officials in the bureau had altered the documents to make them consistent with Sagawa’s testimony.


Ministry officials are suspected of having reduced the land price, taking into consideration Akie Abe’s role as honorary principal of the elementary school Moritomo Gakuen had planned to open on the site. She later withdrew from the post after the land deal came to light in February last year.


On Wednesday, Akie Abe further angered opposition parties after liking a Facebook post critical of them.


The online post said, “Your husband must be having a lot of trouble everyday (facing) the foolish questions of the opposition parties.”


Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet affairs chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters she could not understand Akie Abe’s action.


“She doesn’t understand the situation in which she is placed,” Tsujimoto said. She added she would like to ask the prime minister’s wife in parliament why she liked the Facebook post, adding it is imperative for Akie Abe to testify.


In his first Diet remarks since the ministry admitted on Monday to having altered the documents, Abe again denied his and his wife’s involvement in the huge discounted sale price of the plot of state-owned land.


Abe and Aso both told the House of Councillors Budget Committee that they did not give instructions for the Finance Ministry documents to be rewritten.


“It is obvious that neither I nor my wife was involved (in the land discount), if you look at the documents that have not been rewritten,” he said.


In February last year Abe told parliament he “would quit as prime minister and as a Diet member” if evidence was found proving their involvement.


Changes were made to 14 documents and the revised versions were then disclosed to lawmakers last year.


The original documents quoted the school operator as saying Akie Abe recommended that the project “move forward because it is a good plot of land.”


Abe said he had checked with his wife and that she said she did not make any such comment.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also defended the prime minister and his wife, telling a news conference that the missing sections from the documents did not indicate that Akie Abe had directly lobbied the Finance Ministry.

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