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Finance ministry set to punish 20 officials over tampering of Moritomo sale docs

Former senior Finance Ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- The Ministry of Finance is poised to punish 20 officials over the altering of documents relating to the heavily discounted sale of state land in Osaka Prefecture to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, with a report on the case expected on June 4.

    The ministry is expected to admit that former senior Finance Ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa, who previously headed the Ministry's Financial Bureau, ordered the doctoring of documents. Sagawa is expected to receive the equivalent of a suspension, while Finance Minister Taro Aso is expected to voluntarily return his ministerial salary for one year. As Aso has indicated he will continue his position in spite of the scandal, it is likely opposition parties will step up their calls for him to face responsibility.

    The finance ministry has explained that documents on the sale of the land plot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, were altered to match the Diet testimony of Sagawa. In a probe into the alterations, several workers at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau stated that the changes were ordered by Sagawa.

    Sagawa appears to be denying direct involvement. The Finance Ministry, however, is expected to acknowledge that there were in effect orders from Sagawa.

    Based on the outcome of the ministry probe, Sagawa is likely to receive the equivalent of a three-month suspension, while Minoru Nakamura, director of the Financial Bureau's Planning and Administration Division, is expected to be hit with a one-month suspension. As Sagawa has already left his position, his retirement bonus will be cut by an amount corresponding to the length of the suspension. The deputy and administrative vice ministers and other officials in office at the time of the alterations are also expected to take responsibility. The probe is likely to conclude that no departments besides the Financial Bureau and the Kinki Local Finance Bureau were involved.

    The altering of documents was reported on March 2, and on March 12, the ministry admitted that 14 documents relating to the state land sale had been altered between February and April 2017. Information had been deleted in over 300 places. This included removing the name of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie from the documents along with the names of multiple politicians.

    In May this year, the ministry disclosed that close to 1,000 pages of documents relating to negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen existed although Sagawa repeatedly told the Diet that the documents had been discarded. The ministry probe will report on the events behind the alterations, and the cover-up and discarding of documents.

    A total of 38 people, including Sagawa, were reported to public prosecutors on six charges in connection with the sale. On May 31, a special investigative unit of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office announced that it would shelve charges against all of the accused.

    (Japanese original by Daisuke Oka Business News Department, and Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)

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