A senior Finance Ministry official did not deny the possibility that bureaucrats paid special consideration to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife with regard to a heavily discounted land sale to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, saying her name was included in the ministry documents before they were tampered with "because she is the prime minister's wife."
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The Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau head Mitsuru Ota made the comment during intensive deliberations of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on March 19 in response to a question raised by Japanese Communist Party (JCP) secretariat chief Akira Koike, in which he asked for the reasons why Abe's wife Akie's name appeared in the pre-doctored version of the documents. Abe also told the session that Akie's name "naturally" would not have been in the documents if she was not his wife, but once again denied his or his wife's involvement in the land deal.
Ota's response caused a commotion among lawmakers present at the committee meeting, with Koike saying, "That was a crucial comment. It means that Mrs. Akie Abe's name appeared in the documents because she is someone who must be paid greater consideration than politicians."
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers grilled the prime minister over whether special consideration to Abe's wife played a part in the fact that Moritomo Gakuen was given an approximately 800 million yen discount on the purchase of the plot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. Abe stressed that the couple had nothing to do with the discount, saying, "If you look at the pre-altered version of the documents, you can tell that neither my wife nor I was involved in the land sale or in giving approval to the educational corporation to open a school," underscoring that there was no mention of Abe or his wife directly lobbying the Finance Ministry in the pre-doctored version of the documents.
Opposition forces pushed back, saying that if some kind of consideration to Akie was a factor behind the heavily discounted sale, it can be said in a broad sense that she was involved in the deal. JCP lawmaker Kotaro Tatsumi said, "The core of the issue here is the land lease contract (between the Finance Ministry and Moritomo Gakuen before the plot was sold to the school operator). The negotiations (with Moritomo over the lease contract) were set to be terminated, but when (then Moritomo) chairman Yasunori Kagoike presented one photo, the situation turned around." Tatsumi then showed the committee a photo of Kagoike and his wife Junko with Akie.
According to a pre-doctored Finance Ministry document on "exceptional approval" regarding the land sale, the photo was taken on April 25, 2014, when Akie visited the site in Toyonaka. In addition to the fact that this photo was presented by Kagoike, his comment that Akie told him to "move the matter forward" was deleted from the document before it was initially submitted to the Diet.
In the end, negotiations with Moritomo continued and the lease contract was ultimately concluded. Tatsumi said it was clear that Akie was involved in the matter, but the prime minister denied this, saying his wife was not in a position to say "move the matter forward."