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Finance Ministry admits altering Moritomo land deal docs; Akie Abe's name erased

Akie Abe (Mainichi)

The Finance Ministry on March 12 provided the ruling coalition parties with investigation results admitting that it had altered documents regarding the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen, a private school operator with ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie.

According to a senior ruling party official, dozens of passages in 14 documents were changed between late February and April last year. The official told the Mainichi Shimbun that statements by former Moritomo Chairman Yasunori Kagoike regarding Akie Abe, which were in the original documents, were erased in the altered documents.

Specifically, the items altered were papers drawn up by the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau in 2015 and 2016 on the approval of the Moritomo deal plus attached documents. The originals included passages pointing out the "exceptional" nature of the deal, among other unusual references. However, these phrases had been erased or changed in documents submitted to Diet lawmakers after the land sale came under scrutiny starting in February 2017.

In other words, the alterations began at exactly the same time as the problems with the sale of the government land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo became an issue and opposition parties started grilling the government about it in the Diet.

The Finance Ministry sign is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

Specifically, Kagoike's description of Akie Abe praising the property concerned, and of her being moved to tears during a visit to a Moritomo Gakuen institution, were erased from document passages. Removed as well were descriptions on the process leading up to the sale, including the names of politicians such as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member and former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma, and former LDP House of Councillors lawmaker Issei Kitagawa.

The alterations were apparently directed by the ministry's Financial Bureau, and several figures from this office and the Kinki local bureau are thought to have been involved in the changes.

The unaltered originals and related documents are being held by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office, which copied them at the request of the Finance Ministry.

Meanwhile, a government-related source told the Mainichi that Nobuhisa Sagawa, head of the Financial Bureau when the doctored papers were submitted to Diet members, "probably ordered the alterations." Sagawa resigned as National Tax Agency chief on March 9 over the Moritomo scandal. However, the Finance Ministry has only said that it is "currently investigating" who ordered the documents to be changed.

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