Japan Finance Ministry Admits Doctoring Papers In Abe Scandal

13 March, 2018, 11:22 | Author: Marjorie Miles
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The name of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife was removed from documents regarding a suspected cronyism scandal, media said on Monday, as pressure mounted on the premier and his ally Finance Minister Taro Aso over a possible cover-up.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and his wife Akie at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2017.

Opposition lawmakers are calling for Aso to step down to take responsibility, and some analysts believe his resignation could be inevitable. It said one document originally noted that the school operator was involved with a powerful pro-Abe political lobby, Nippon Kaigi, of which Abe was vice chairman, but that comment had later been deleted.

The controversy fuelled a steep decline in Abe's popularity past year but heappeared to ride out the scandal and won a snap lower house election in October.

Fourteen of the original documents were rewritten by the ministry after the scandal came to light early past year, Kyodo reported citing an anonymous insider in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

The Moritomo Gakuen scandal, which first surfaced in February previous year and pushed down Abe's support ratings, has drawn fresh attention since a major Japanese daily reported on March 2 that the ministry documents had been doctored to remove descriptions stating the discounted land sale price was "exceptional".

Sagawa headed the ministry division that submitted the documents before he was tapped as tax agency chief in July, an appointment that critics saw as a reward for his efforts to diffuse the issue with his statements to parliament a year ago.

In fact the issue caused furore on March 9 with media reports that a regional finance ministry official in the section overseeing the sale killed himself. Sagawa also acknowledged destroying documents.

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The developing political scandal is raising doubts about Abe's ability to continue to pursue his economic policies, including monetary easing.

Aso said on Monday he had no intention of resigning, but apologised for the tampering.

The scandal dates back to early 2017 when the Asahi newspaper broke the news that Moritomo Gakuen - a Japanese private school operator - had bought government land in Osaka for a fraction of the price of comparable plots.

The school had other powerful supporters: Tomomi Inada, the former defence minister, sent a letter thanking the kindergarten for raising the morale of Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF); its children are dispatched to the docks to wave off SDF warships.

The risk for Aso and Abe, experts said, is that the suspected cover-up does more damage than the land sale itself.

Opposition leaders demanded that Abe's wife and Sagawa testify and threatened to boycott parliamentary sessions if they did not. While LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said Monday that his support for Abe in the party's presidential race this autumn "has not shifted at all", he also called the document alterations a "severe problem".

When reporters asked Aso on Monday whether the bureaucrats had acted to protect the Abes, Aso said that in his judgment, Akie Abe had nothing to do with the case.



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