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Editorial: Abe can't sweep away Moritomo distrust by protecting own skin

In spite of the public's frustration over irresponsibility witnessed at the core of the administration, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the highest figure of the government's executive branch has denied, with increasing vehemence, that he was involved in a shady land deal involving school operator Moritomo Gakuen. We feel a strong sense of discomfort over his comments.

The prime minister's denial came during intensive deliberations on the Moritomo Gakuen scandal in the House of Councillors Budget Committee on March 19. Abe currently faces two major questions. One concerns his comment in the Diet in February last year, in which he said he would resign as prime minister and as a Diet member if he or his wife were involved in the land deal. How does he view those comments in relation to the tampering of government documents relating to the sale?

It is not hard to imagine such comments -- that he would resign -- coming from a prime minister caused great stress to organizations of bureaucrats.

Was it not the case that Nobuhisa Sagawa, the former head of the Financial Bureau of the Ministry of Finance, was gauging the prime minister's intentions when repeatedly giving unreasonable explanations in the Diet over the land sale, and that the sale documents were then doctored to match his testimony? A unilateral claim from a person whose intentions were being surmised that no such thing happened is hardly convincing.

The second question is, does Prime Minister Abe feel any responsibility over the fact that things would not have gotten to this point if there had been no special relationship between his wife Akie and Moritomo Gakuen?

The prime minister has maintained that there were no references in the original, unaltered documents to direct involvement, and reiterated, "It is clear that neither I nor my wife were involved."

Why, then, was it stated in the documentation that Akie, who is not a Diet member, had given a lecture for Moritomo Gakuen and had gone to inspect a site where the school operator planned to open an elementary school?

The current chief of the Financial Bureau, Mitsuru Ota, stated that the references to Akie were made "because she is the prime minister's wife."

Amid these circumstances, it is not the prime minister who determines whether there was any involvement. The important point is that the Ministry of Finance focused on Akie's relationship with Moritomo Gakuen when forming the land sale contract.

The unaltered sale documents state that Moritomo Gakuen received a comment from Akie saying, "This is good land, so please go ahead (with construction of the elementary school)."

The prime minister says Akie told him she never made this comment. But even if confirmation between Abe and his wife is used to rebuff Moritomo Gakuen's statements, that still doesn't eliminate the possibility that the Finance Ministry tried to gauge the prime minister's position when negotiating the sale.

When members of the Liberal Democratic Party asked questions relating to the scandal, many were statements pinning responsibility on the Finance Ministry. There was even a comment suggesting that Ota, who served as an executive secretary to a prime minister under the then Democratic Party of Japan-led government, was speaking "in order to stain the Abe administration."

The Abe administration, moving to evade responsibility, has a poor sense of crisis. As long as the prime minister is bent on protecting himself, moves to shed light on the truth and prevent a recurrence will not progress.

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