It has become likely that former National Tax Agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa will be summoned to the Diet as a sworn witness next week or later to testify in connection with the altering of Finance Ministry documents pertaining to the heavily discounted sale of state land to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had earlier refused demands from opposition parties for Sagawa to be summoned, but with public criticism mounting, it appears that the ruling party had no option but to comply.
The focus of the summons is why, and for whose benefit, the sale documents were tampered with.
Finance Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, stated that the alterations were made by workers in his ministry's Financial Bureau. He said the changes were made because the Diet testimony of Sagawa, who headed the bureau at the time, diverged from the document content. In other words, he has taken the stance that a single bureau was responsible.
At the same time, it has been learned that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others at his office were aware of the existence of the original, unaltered documents a week before the Finance Ministry announced that the documents had been altered. But even then, his office held firm to the position that all responsibility, including for investigations, lay with the Ministry of Finance.
It would be wrong, however, to say that the prime minister is any sort of victim here.
After the Moritomo sale emerged as a problem in February last year, Sagawa told the Diet that procedures relating to the sale had been conducted properly, that the sale price was appropriate, and that records of negotiations on the sale had been disposed of. In light of the recent emergence of the original documents, it is now clear that his statements deviate greatly from the facts. Considering the high price it would have to pay in the event the document tampering was exposed, however, it is implausible that the Financial Bureau acted alone. Any merit to be gained from doctoring the documents must have been greater for the prime minister.
On Feb. 17 last year, Abe stated in the Diet that if it turned out that he or his wife was involved in the land deal, he would resign both as prime minister and as a Diet member.
From the time the heavily discounted sale was reported, a connection between Moritomo Gakuen and Abe's wife Akie had been pointed out. Surely the deletion of her name and all references to politicians from the sale documents was not only to make the document content match Sagawa's testimony, but also to snuff out all connections between the prime minister and the deal.
The prime minister's office wields great power, including in the personnel choices of government ministries and agencies. It is hard to imagine that Sagawa would speak in the Diet of his own accord on a problem that would affect the administration.
Other issues linger. One is the act of deceiving the Diet, a body that represents the Japanese people. The ruling and opposition parties need to work together to unravel the truth. Revealing the process that led to the tampering of documents that were then submitted to the Diet should shed light on suspicions regarding the sale itself.
So far Sagawa's lips had been sealed up until the point of his resignation as chief of the National Tax Agency.
Now is the time for him to tell the truth.