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Editorial: Diet must get to bottom of Moritomo document doctoring scandal

The ongoing regular Diet session has reached the half-way point as the fiscal 2018 state budget has been passed into law.

The government and ruling parties are poised to ensure that proposed bills on work-style reform and the legalization of casinos, among others, become law by the end of the session in June.

However, sufficient efforts have not been made to get to the bottom of a scandal in which the Finance Ministry doctored documents relating to the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot in Osaka Prefecture to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which had links to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie. Nevertheless, the Abe administration has taken the position that the matter has been basically settled after former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was director-general of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau at the time of the document alterations, provided sworn testimony before the Diet over the case.

The Abe government apparently intends to leave efforts to identify the person who ordered the document alterations and those who carried them out to the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation unit probing the case.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appears to misunderstand the situation. The Diet should play a key role in getting to the bottom of the scandal as the matter surpasses by a wide margin the level of a typical political struggle between ruling and opposition parties.

Shinjiro Koizumi, chief deputy secretary-general of the LDP, takes the scandal more seriously than fellow party legislators. Speaking to reporters after the party's March 25 convention, he said, "We now face a major incident that will go down in the history of politics in the Heisei era." His observation is correct.

Political scandals involving massive amounts of money have shaken up LDP-led governments before. In one typical example, a bribery scandal involving U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Aircraft Corp. raised questions about a crime allegedly committed by a prime minister.

The history of Japanese politics in the Heisei era began with the resolution of such money politics. The Recruit stocks-for-favors scandal that rocked the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita heightened public criticism of politics to an unprecedented level. This prompted the political world to carry out reform, introducing a new electoral system centering on single-seat constituencies for the House of Representatives as well as a political party subsidy system.

Under the administrations of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and subsequent leaders, the central government ministries and agencies were realigned and the authority of the prime minister's office was strengthened.

It is true that massive bribery cases have not been uncovered as of late. The prime minister's office has built up its power to coordinate among ministries and agencies in policy decisions. However, the prime minister's authority has been strengthened excessively since Abe returned to power in 2012.

The latest document doctoring case has demonstrated that, apparently under the influence of some tremendous power, bureaucrats have so lost their conscience that they do not hesitate to deceive the Diet.

This is the peculiarity of the Moritomo document doctoring case in the Heisei political history. This is nothing but the negative legacy of those post-Recruit scandal political reforms.

Diet members are representatives of the public, and the Diet is the sole source of administrative power. The executive branch submitted altered documents to the legislative branch, and the scandal could have been shrouded in darkness unless news organizations had uncovered the case. If the Diet failed to get to the bottom of the scandal, who else would do so?

It is Japan's democratic political system itself that suffered damage from the document alteration case.

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