Abe under fire over suspected cover-up

Katrina Barker
March 13, 2018

References to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his wife and Finance Minister Taro Aso were removed from documents related to a suspected cronyism scandal, according to the documents seen by Reuters, as concerns grew about a possible cover-up.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe visit a former home of Chiune Sugihara, a Jew-saving Japanese diplomat, in Kaunas, Lithuania January 14, 2018. Abe has said he would resign if evidence were found that they had.

The controversy has caused the Diet to stall, but Sakakibara said he still wants lawmakers to deliberate on other key issues during the current ordinary session through June, including labor reforms aimed at addressing overworking and exempting certain skilled workers from working-hour regulations.

Opposition politicians have alleged that the buyer of the land - a right-wing operator of private schools - was able to clinch the sale at such a favourable price because of his ties to the Abe family.

Abe's wife Akie was initially named honorary principal of an elementary school planned to be built at the site in Osaka but withdrew after the scandal came to light.

The transaction has attracted renewed attention since a national daily reported that the sale documents were doctored. "This has entered the stage where the responsibility of the prime minister himself will be called into question", opposition Democratic Party leader Yuichiro Tamaki, was quoted saying by Kyodo news agency. A reference to Nippon Kaigi, a prominent right-wing group of which Abe is a member, was also deleted.

Aso told a news conference on Monday that ministry officials altered the documents to make them conform with testimony in parliament by the then-head of a ministry division, Nobuhisa Sagawa, who abruptly resigned last week.

Abe quickly apologized Monday on behalf of ministry officials but did not mention his wife or her suspected role in the scandal. Mr Sagawa was head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted previous year to tax agency chief. He said Aso should resign and parliament hold hearings on the matter.

The finance ministry admitted on Monday that it had altered official documents surrounding the decision to provide an 85 per cent discount on the appraised value of the land.

The backing of Mr Aso, 77, who doubles as deputy premier, is vital to Mr Abe's bid for a third term and a key factor in the stability of his administration.

Abe, 63, swept back to power in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster Japan's defence.

His ruling bloc won a two-thirds "super majority" in an October lower house poll, helped by opposition disarray.

A March 9-11 survey by the Yomiuri newspaper showed support for Abe's cabinet has now fallen to 48 percent, down six points from a month earlier.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

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