Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Editorial: Prosecutors' failure to press charges in Moritomo case unconvincing

Special investigators with the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office decided not to indict former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa and 37 others including Finance Ministry officials over the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen and the ministry's doctoring of documents regarding the land deal.

Prosecutors determined that there were either no suspicions, or not enough, to form a breach of trust case against the accused for selling state property at an unreasonably cheap price, or to press criminal charges for creating false official documents.

Prosecutors claim that after concluding their investigations, they had to drop the charges because they would not be able to establish the guilt of those concerned in public trials. Such a conclusion, however, appears to be completely out of touch with the public's sentiment.

The doctoring of the documents was of an unprecedented nature in that over 300 sections were deleted from 14 sets of documents sanctioning the land deal. Among the omissions were references to the names of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie and prominent politicians, as well as phrases such as the land deal being "exceptional" and statements chronicling the ministry's negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen.

The special investigation unit at the Osaka prosecutors office explained that its decision not to indict the officials was because these deletions did not constitute "alterations to the essence of the documents." The team apparently attached weight to the fact that the content of the contracts over the land deal and the prices related to the transaction, among other factors, had not been changed in the doctored documents.

However, the document alterations took place between February and April last year, when Sagawa was heading the ministry's Financial Bureau that was handling the land deal, in order to keep consistency with his statements in the Diet. The portions of the documents referring to Akie Abe, which were deleted, had come under the spotlight in Diet deliberations over whether the Finance Ministry had exercised consideration to the prime minister over the course of the land deal negotiations.

Under a Supreme Court precedent, one can be convicted of creating false public documents if they had deleted an essential portion of the documents. In the Moritomo case, weren't the eliminated portions of the documents a significant part of the approval documents as a whole?

It is said that some prosecutors were positive about pressing criminal charges against at least some of the 38. The special investigative unit held a press conference to explain its decision, in an unusual move for a case where the charges were dropped, but it can hardly be said that the unit's account helped the public become convinced about the absolution.

The special investigators also concluded that the ministry officials cannot be held criminally responsible for the allegations that they inflated the costs for removing garbage from the state property and sold it to the school operator at an unreasonably cheap price.

The parties who filed criminal complaints against the officials and others concerned are set to file a complaint with a committee for the inquest of prosecution over the Osaka prosecutors' decision. Therefore, the criminal responsibilities of those concerned will continue to be examined.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai hailed the prosecutors' decision, saying, "I hope this makes ministry officials feel better and encourages them to work hard" -- sounding as if the issue has been settled once and for all. Yet, the cases are grave in that ministry officials had deceived the public and the Diet, and the curtain should not be closed on the matter anytime soon. It is essential to keep probing the issue, through thorough in-house investigations and consideration of legal measures to prevent document alterations.

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media