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PM Abe vows to 'get to bottom' of Moritomo land deal doc scandal

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, answers a question about the Finance Ministry document doctoring scandal, during a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting on March 26, 2018. Seated at left is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swore on March 26 to "clarify the whole picture" of the doctoring of Finance Ministry documents on the state land sale to school operator Moritomo Gakuen and "rebuild the organization (responsible) from the roots up" to prevent a recurrence.

Abe made the comments during a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting, adding, "I will fulfill my responsibilities as prime minister."

Meanwhile, the ministry's Financial Bureau chief Mitsuru Ota told the committee that the ministry's internal investigation "hasn't yet reached the point" where the person or people who ordered the series of deletions and alterations to the land deal documents could be identified.

Multiple passages were changed or deleted in 14 documents pertaining to the heavily discounted sale of state land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen, which was connected to Prime Minister Abe's wife Akie. Deletions included all mentions of Akie made by then Moritomo Chairman Yasunori Kagoike, and the names of politicians including ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers.

At the March 26 budget committee meeting, Abe stated, "The government's answers on this issue have always referred to 'rewritten' passages, but even if they are called 'falsifications,' it cannot be helped."

In his testimony, Ota told lawmakers that it was believed the document doctoring had been the work of "some members of staff at the ministry's Financial Bureau." Ota emphasized that Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was head of the bureau at the time of the alterations and is scheduled to give sworn testimony to both houses of the Diet on March 27, is among "some of those members."

Deputy Vice Finance Minister Koji Yano has insisted that "it is beyond doubt that neither the prime minister's office nor Finance Minister Taro Aso ordered (the document changes), and also that they knew nothing about it." Yano also revealed that when ministry bureaucrats reported the doctoring on March 11, Aso responded by saying, "So they really did it."

At the upper house budget committee directors' meeting before the main gathering, opposition lawmakers demanded that Akie Abe and Hidenori Sakota, head of the ministry's Financial Bureau at the time of the Moritomo land deal, be summoned to the Diet to testify. The LDP members denied the request, stating that the "current head of the Financial Bureau will take responsibility and respond" to questions on the scandal.

At the budget meeting, Abe replied to the demands to call his wife as a witness by saying, "I am taking political responsibility for replying to questioning. That I am responding means that the prime minister is responding."

The Finance Ministry, meanwhile, presented one original document on a decision relating to the sale of the government land to Moritomo, which it had kept in digital form. Until now, the ministry had only revealed the parts of the documents that had been altered.

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