Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed on March 19 that his testimony at a 2017 Diet session in which he said he would step down as prime minister if he or his wife were involved in the heavily discounted sale of state property to school operator Moritomo Gakuen did not affect the Ministry of Finance's move to tamper with documents regarding the land deal.
"I didn't even know that there were documents compiled by the Financial Bureau or the Kinki Local Finance Bureau in the first place," Abe told the House of Councillors Budget Committee during intensive deliberations on March 19, denying once again that he ordered that the documents be manipulated.
Abe had told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Feb. 17, 2017 that he would resign as prime minister and as a legislator if either he or his wife were involved in the land sale. Opposition lawmakers at the latest budget committee meeting grilled the prime minister over the connection between his earlier testimony and the document doctoring scandal.
Prime Minister Abe pointed out that the deleted parts that mentioned developments related to the deal, such as that Akie at one point was named honorary principal at an elementary school Moritomo Gakuen was planning to open and that she visited the planned site for the school in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, had already been discussed in the Diet from late February to April last year -- when the documents in question were falsified. Abe added that the contents in the pre-doctored documents "don't include anything that would overturn (my testimony) that we've got nothing to do (with the land sale)."
He also said passages citing Akie and other lawmakers made up "only a portion" of the documents and that they were deleted almost completely in the doctored version, suggesting that it was not the case that particular consideration was paid to him or his wife.
At the same time, Abe acknowledged that it was only natural for the public to cast a suspicious eye on the country's first couple after his wife was named honorary principal of the school. He said from now on, Akie would "decline such honorary posts, with some exceptions."
Asked about the sharp drop in his Cabinet's approval ratings in the latest polls conducted by news organizations including the Mainichi Shimbun, the prime minister only stated, "I'm just going to do what I'm supposed to without reacting nervously to every little thing. I'm not going to make comments every time (there is a poll)."
Meanwhile, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso told the same budget committee session that he was "having a hard time understanding why bureaucrats rewrote the documents." He added, "To be honest, I think it would have been better if the original documents were submitted to the Diet."
Opposition parties demanded that former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was the head of the Financial Bureau at the time the Moritomo scandal was brought up in the Diet, as well as Hidenori Sakota, who headed the same bureau before Sagawa when negotiations over the land sale were taking place, and a government employee who served as an aide to Akie, among others, be summoned to the Diet as sworn witnesses to testify on the land sale. The opposition is requesting that the Diet vote on a resolution to summon these key persons by the end of March 19.