Shinzo Abe

Japan’s finance ministry to admit altering documents for cut-price land sale linked to Abe cronyism scandal

The Osaka state-owned plot was sold at a much lower price to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator with ties to the leader’s wife

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 7:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 7:31pm

Japan’s Finance Ministry will admit altering documents pertaining to a state-owned land sale at the centre of favouritism allegations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, government sources said on Saturday.

The ministry plans to tell the Diet as soon as Monday that it has found several instances where content present in the original versions of the documents was removed later, the sources said.

The admission of the allegations, which were reported earlier this month by a major daily newspaper, is likely to cause further damage to Abe and fuel calls for Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign over the issue.

The scandal over the heavily discounted sale of land in Osaka Prefecture to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator with ties to Abe’s wife, contributed to a decline in Abe’s public popularity last year before the doctoring allegations reignited the issue this month.

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The ministry will consider disciplining officials involved in the land sale, both at the ministry’s headquarters in Tokyo and its Kinki bureau which covers the Osaka region, the sources said.

In addition to stoking opposition parties’ accusations of a cover-up by the Abe administration, the ministry’s admission could strengthen calls even within the ruling coalition for Abe and Aso to be held to account.

The latest twist in the land sale scandal has seen the former head of the ministry’s Kinki bureau, who had come under fire for allegedly making false remarks about the sale to the Diet last year, resign on Friday from his subsequent job as head of the National Tax Agency.

According to the sources, the records in question include a memo attached to documents describing the deal reached in June 2016 to sell the land to Moritomo Gakuen.

The original document described the land transaction between the ministry and the school operator as “exceptional”, but this word was missing in the version made available to Diet members during debate about the scandal last year.

The sources said the ministry has not yet determined all the details about when or why the alterations were made and who was involved, and will continue its internal investigation.

The plot of state-owned land was sold to Moritomo Gakuen for around 134 million yen (US$1.3 million), much less than its appraised value of 956 million yen. The company used the land to build a private junior school, which it ended up not opening due to the scandal.

Abe’s wife Akie had been named honorary principal of the planned school, but she stepped down in February last year after the details of the sale began to attract public scrutiny.