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Ruling parties scramble to quell scandal after ex-Finance Ministry official’s Diet testimony

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito are trying to quiet down the Moritomo Gakuen scandal after former National Tax Agency Commissioner Nobuhisa Sagawa testified in the Diet on March 27. In light of Sagawa’s denial of any involvement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his wife Akie, or others in the affair, the ruling parties are poised to reject the opposition’s demand to summon Mrs. Akie Abe as a sworn witness. However, since Sagawa refused to testify on several key issues and fell short of revealing the whole truth, it remains to be seen if this issue will develop in the way the ruling parties are hoping.

 

The ruling party Diet members’ strategy for the Diet testimony was to demonstrate that the document alteration and sale of government-owned land “were undertaken solely at the Finance Ministry officials’ own initiative,” according to a senior LDP official.

 

During questioning at Diet interpellations, Komeito House of Representatives member Yuzuru Takeuchi suggested, “When Sagawa realized that the approval documents contradicted his testimony in the Diet (that records of the negotiations had been discarded), he was shocked and reprimanded his subordinates furiously. Therefore, they did what they thought would please him.” He asked Sagawa if that was what happened. The purpose of this was to deny the opposition’s charge that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s response in the Diet was the motive behind the document alteration.

 

LDP Lower House member Masatoshi Ishida focused on the process of selling the government land, pointing out, “As of August 2013, a decision had been made to lease the land on the assumption that it would be sold eventually.” He stated that Moritomo Gakuen President Yasunori Kagoike’s mention of Mrs. Abe in his discussions with the Kinki Finance Bureau in April 2014 “did not influence the negotiations.”

 

In a news conference on the afternoon of March 27, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stressed that with regard to alleged instructions from the Kantei to alter documents, “We have explained clearly in the Diet several times (that no such instructions were issued), and Mr. Sagawa has confirmed this.”

 

LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama is taking a tough stance on the opposition’s demand to summon Mrs. Abe and others to the Diet. He said: “Since it is now clear that Mrs. Abe was not involved, there is no need to summon her.”

 

However, there is no guarantee that things will quiet down just like that. Former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters: “It was an extremely unusual Diet testimony. The Diet should decide to launch an investigation involving a third party,” calling for additional investigations. In the LDP, members who distance themselves from Abe made comments such as the following one by a mid-ranking member: “Sagawa gave a bad impression of shielding the Kantei.” 

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