Japan: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not involved in land sale cover-up, says official | News | DW | 27.03.2018
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Japan: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not involved in land sale cover-up, says official

A former official has told Japanese lawmakers the prime minister and his wife did not tamper with Finance Ministry documents. But one opposition lawmaker said the testimony had "deepened" doubts.

Former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa (picture-alliance/AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Nobuhisa Sagawa

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife did not order officials at the Finance Ministry to falsify documents involved in a scandal-laden land sale, a former Ministry official said on Tuesday.

Nobuhisa Sagawa, the ex-head of the Finance Ministry office in charge of the documents, said in a highly anticipated parliamentary testimony his office "never reported [the falsifications] outside the finance bureau … not to mention the prime minister's office." He added that Abe's Cabinet secretary and finance minister were also unaware of the alterations.

Read more: Japan's Finance Ministry admits to doctoring documents linked to Abe's wife

But Sagawa, who recently resigned as head of the National Tax Office in response to the scandal, refused to answer questions about how and when the documents were edited, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.

"I am deeply sorry if this has undermined public trust in civil servants across the nation," Sagawa said, bowing before lawmakers.

Some opposition lawmakers jeered in response, with Tetsuro Fukuyama from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan telling Sagawa: "The doubts have deepened ... you have poured oil on the fire."

Controversial land sale

Abe has seen his public support plunge and faced calls from the opposition to resign after reports emerged about a 2016 sale of state-owned land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which has close ties to Abe's wife, Akie.

Sagawa told lawmakers several times in 2017 that sale price had been correctly calculated and that there was no evidence that there had been any political interference.

But scandal escalated after the Finance Ministry admitted to tampering with its records of the sale to make them consistent with Sagawa's testimony and remove references to Abe, Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso.

Read more: Japan's Abe wins resounding election victory

Abe's uncertain future

Abe has apologized and promised an investigation into the sale, but has denied any personal wrongdoing.

The opposition has repeatedly called on Abe and Akie to testify in the parliament, a demand which Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has rejected.

The Japanese prime minister's falling popularity comes ahead of a party vote in September on whether to re-elect him to a third term as LDP leader.

amp/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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