OSAKA -- The Ministry of Finance said on June 4 that it is punishing 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.
The ministry released the results of a probe saying that former senior Finance Ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa, who previously headed the Ministry's Financial Bureau, "set the direction" for the tampering of documents. Sagawa received the equivalent of a three-month suspension, while Finance Minister Taro Aso decided 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, Minoru Nakamura, director of the Financial Bureau's Planning and Administration Division, was 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 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.
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)