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Gov't silent on alleged doctoring of Abe-linked land sale records

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Finance Minister Taro Aso talk at a budget Committee of the House of Councillors in Tokyo, on March 2, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government on Friday refused to comment on a newspaper report that it doctored a document related to the heavily discounted sale of state land to a school operator linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife.

    Finance Minister Taro Aso declined to address the report in The Asahi Shimbun on Friday that said his ministry altered the document on the land sale to Moritomo Gakuen after the scandal came to light in February last year, saying he could not comment while prosecutors' investigations into the case were ongoing.

    The dubious transaction involved state-owned land in Osaka Prefecture that was sold to Moritomo Gakuen in 2016 for around 134 million yen ($1.3 million), much less than its appraised value of 956 million yen. Moritomo Gakuen used the land to build a private elementary school, but it did not open as scheduled due to the scandal.

    Abe's wife Akie had been named honorary principal of the planned school, but she stepped down after the land sale came to the attention of the public.

    The major Japanese daily newspaper highlighted differences between the original version it obtained and the one disclosed to lawmakers after the issue was first reported in 2017.

    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, according to the Asahi report.

    A senior Finance Ministry official told a parliamentary committee Friday the ministry will reexamine the document while heeding the possible impact it may have on the prosecutors' investigation. The document was compiled by the ministry's Kinki bureau based in Osaka.

    Opposition parties demanded the ministry make public the original text.

    The government is suspected to have dramatically discounted the land price in light of Akie's involvement in the school project. Abe and government officials have flatly denied the allegation.

    Yasunori Kagoike, who headed Moritomo Gakuen at the time of the deal, and his wife Junko have been indicted on unrelated subsidy fraud charges.

    Osaka prosecutors are investigating the ministry's Kinki bureau officials on suspicion of a breach of trust and discarding land sale negotiation records that should have been retained.

    Aso said at a press conference it is "a matter of course" for the ministry to "fully cooperate with the investigation."

    In the wake of Friday's report, the opposition Party of Hope and Democratic Party grilled ministry officials at a meeting held in the Diet. Under questioning, the officials held to Aso's stated position.

    Kenta Izumi, Diet affairs chief of the Party of Hope, told reporters, "If (the report is) true, the Cabinet must resign."


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