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Finance Minister Aso contradicts own ministry's report on Moritomo scandal

Finance Minister Taro Aso listens to questions at a House of Representatives Committee on Financial Affairs meeting on June 5, 2018, at the National Diet Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Finance Minister Taro Aso denied that remarks made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Diet about the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen were what sparked a spate of public record falsifications by bureaucrats at a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Affairs on June 5.

According to an investigative report the Finance Ministry released June 4, however, Prime Minister Abe told the Diet in February of last year that if he or his wife, Akie Abe, were found to have been in any way involved in the discounted sale of a plot of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen, he would resign from his post as prime minister and as a lawmaker.

The report noted that this triggered a series of actions, including the compilation of a list by senior Financial Bureau officials at the Finance Ministry of lawmakers and a government employee assigned as an assistant to the first lady who inquired about the proposed sale, and subsequently, the disposal of those records.

At the June 5 meeting, Aso also stood by a previous statement he himself made that the tampering of documents at the hands of Finance Ministry officials had not been "malicious," even while he apologized once again for the doctoring of those public records. He emphasized that Abe's remarks in the Diet did not serve as a catalyst for the problematic actions by bureaucrats that followed.

Asked what he meant when he said that the doctoring of public documents was not "malicious," Aso responded, "I held the view that it would be difficult to call something malicious when there was no embezzlement or the taking of money in other ways." He added, "The doctoring of documents can only be characterized as poor-quality activity," but did not retract his previous statement.

The Finance Ministry meted out punishments to 20 of its officials in relation to the Moritomo scandal. Asked during committee deliberations on June 5 whether the doctoring of public records had been carried out by the ministry as a whole, Aso replied, "It was not an all-out effort by the Finance Ministry." But he also said, "There's no getting out of admitting that it was carried out by the then Financial Bureau as a whole."

Opposition parties objected to Aso's remarks, with many once again calling for Aso's resignation. "We would be greatly damaging our national interests if we continue this debate that has been built on lie upon lie any further," said Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan legislator Hiroshi Kawauchi.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Oka, Business News Department)

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