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Sagawa repeatedly dodges Diet questions, citing possible prosecution

Former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa answers a question from opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Toshio Ogawa under oath at a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on March 27, 2018. (Mainichi)

"I may be subject to criminal prosecution, so I will refrain from answering," repeated former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa over and over in response to questioning under oath by the House of Councillors' Budget Committee on the morning of March 27.

Sagawa was summoned as a witness to the Diet to testify about the details surrounding the doctoring of documents related to the sale of government-owned property in Osaka Prefecture to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen. As head of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau at the time the documents were altered, all ears awaited Sagawa's story. However, the former official repeatedly declined to give detailed answers, citing the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's current investigation of the case, though he did strongly deny the involvement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the scandal-hit sale.

At 8:50 a.m., Sagawa arrived in front of the Diet building in a black car. Dressed in a black suit, he quickly moved to the third-floor witness waiting room clutching a paper bag apparently filled with reference documents, his face tense in a torrent of camera flashes.

Just after 9:30 a.m. in the first committee chamber of the upper house, Sagawa lowered his head when he first came to the witness podium and said, "The responsibility for bringing such chaos to the Diet and shaking the foundation of the nation's trust in the government falls on me alone. I offer my deepest apologies."

However, after that, in response to questions from committee members about his connection to the sale or any direction he might have received or given about the land deal, no matter how many times he was asked, Sagawa had the same answer:

"I'm sorry to have to keep repeating this, but there is the possibility that I will be subject to criminal prosecution, so I will refrain from answering that question."

This gradually wore on the nerves of the committee, and while opposition party lawmakers' jeers flew around the room, Japanese Communist Party member Akira Koike at one point angrily raised his voice and said, "If things continue like this, calling you as a witness has no meaning!"

In Diet deliberations last year, Sagawa conspicuously brushed off questions from opposition parties. He repeatedly said that records of the negotiations of the land sale had been "expunged," citing that the government was only responsible for keeping such documents for less than a year.

However, the Mainichi Shimbun learned that a Kinki Local Finance Bureau employee in fact saved the documents as notes. When Sagawa was asked about his awareness of the inconsistency in his statement from that time, he revealed that he had not actually confirmed the state of the records.

"I simply pointed out the document management rules (that the government is only obligated to keep records for under a year)," Sagawa reflected. "I would like to apologize for the sloppiness in my statements to the Diet."

While Sagawa refrained from answering whether or how he was involved in the alteration of the Financial Bureau documents on the Moritomo land deal, he did make clear that he was not given any directions by anyone close to the prime minister or Finance Minister Taro Aso.

"This was an individual matter internal to the Financial Bureau," he said. "I neither reported to nor received directions from the finance minister's secretariat or the office of the prime minister (about the land sale)."

Concerning the sale of the government land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture -- appraised at some 960 million yen -- to the school operator at only 134 million, at times gesturing while giving hurried responses, Sagawa said, "I was not in charge of the sale, but as far as I have learned, the sale was not influenced by the prime minister or his wife (Akie Abe)."

Comments by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) strongly asserting there was no connection between the administration and the sale also caused a stir in the chamber. LDP lawmaker Tamayo Marukawa repeatedly asked, "There was no direction from the prime minister, right?" and, "There were no suggestions from the prime minister's wife either, right?"

Finally, when Marukawa concluded her questions with the statement, "You have testified that the prime minister, his wife and the prime minister's office were not involved with the altering of the documents and land deal. Thank you," the committee hall erupted in roars of disapproval.

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