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Editorial: Sagawa's odd testimony only deepens suspicions over Moritomo scandal

The summoning of former Finance Ministry Financial Bureau chief Nobuhisa Sagawa to the Diet to testify as a sworn witness about the doctoring of the ministry's documents relating to the heavily discounted sale of state land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen failed to shed light on the truth behind the scandal, which has rocked the very foundations of this democratic state.

Sagawa's testimony, made before both houses of the Diet on March 27, was unnatural and rather deepened suspicions surrounding the document tampering scandal.

We had expected Sagawa to speak about the correlation between his earlier Diet testimony while serving as the Financial Bureau chief and the document alterations at the Finance Ministry. Sagawa had previously stated in the Diet that: "The sale of the state-owned land lot to the school operator (Moritomo Gakuen) was carried out in an appropriate manner"; "There were no price negotiations in advance"; and "All records of negotiations have been discarded." All these statements came into question in relation to the document doctoring scandal.

Sagawa's successor at the Financial Bureau, Mitsuru Ota, has recently explained to the legislature that the document alterations were made in order to match the content of the documents with Sagawa's Diet testimony.

However, Sagawa asserted during his Diet appearance on March 27 that he still believed his testimony to the effect that there were no price negotiations between the government and Moritomo was correct, and reiterated that the procedures for the land sale were appropriate.

How come, then, there was the need for the ministry to go out of its way to alter the documents in the first place? Wouldn't such action rather support the view that bureaucrats exercised special consideration to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? Sagawa's arguments also contradict Ota's explanation.

In regard to government records of negotiations with Moritomo, documents recording in-house exchanges at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau over the land deal were subsequently found.

Sagawa claimed on March 27 that, in his previous Diet testimony in question, he had just cited ministry regulations under which related records are to be discarded when the cases are over, and explained that he hadn't actually confirmed the disposal of those records. His latest testimony is nothing but a far-fetched argument.

Furthermore, Sagawa on one hand unequivocally denied the involvement of the prime minister's office or others in the Abe administration in the document alterations, but on the other hand refused to testify about how and why the document tampering took place, on the grounds that he could be subject to criminal prosecution over the matter.

In addition, Sagawa flatly denied that there was any influence by Prime Minister Abe or his wife Akie on the procedures leading up to the land sale. One is tempted to wonder why Sagawa, who was not even heading the Financial Bureau when the land deal was signed, can give such a definitive comment after just "studying the processes" as he claimed.

Under the "Act on Witnesses' Oath, Testimony, etc. Before Both Houses of the Diet," a witness can refuse to testify on the grounds of possible prosecution. The provision is designed to give consideration to the human rights of witnesses. In the meanwhile, witnesses who refuse to testify without just cause are subject to criminal punishment. This is because of the gravity of the Diet's right to conduct investigations in relation to the central government, which is guaranteed under the Constitution.

During his Diet appearance on March 27, Sagawa at times declined to testify about matters that would not immediately raise the possibility of his criminal prosecution. Although his actions can be called self-defense, an excessive use of that right would belittle the Diet.

The Diet's inherent function of overseeing the executive branch of government is being called into question. The legislative branch is urged to take the initiative in carrying out investigations into Finance Ministry employees who were involved in the Moritomo land sale and document alterations.

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