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Son noted distress over finance ministry orders to doctor records in suicide note: father

The father of an official at the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau who took his own life speaks to the Mainichi Shimbun while gazing at a photo of his late son in Okayama Prefecture, on Oct. 6, 2018. (Mainichi/Nana Hayashida)

OKAYAMA -- The father of a Finance Ministry official who killed himself in March, leaving behind a suicide note saying his superior had ordered him to fabricate public records regarding the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, said in an interview here with the Mainichi Shimbun that he wants to know "the whole truth."

At the time of his death, the 54-year-old son was posted at the department that handled the sale of government land to Moritomo Gakuen within the Kinki Local Finance Bureau of the Finance Ministry, located in the city of Osaka. He had been born and raised in Okayama Prefecture in western Japan, and after graduating from high school, took a job at the then state-owned Japan National Railways (JNR). When JNR was privatized in 1987, the man entered the then Ministry of Finance as a non-elite-track regional hire.

His 83-year-old father lamented that his son "wouldn't have fallen into the kind of situation he ended up in if he had had a different job."

His son wasn't of large build, but spoke with a strong voice, joked often, and was generally upbeat. The last time the two met was in mid-February, when his son visited him at his home. They chatted about nothing in particular. "He seemed more quiet than usual," the man said, "but I had no clue that he was thinking about death."

On March 7, he received a call from his son's wife that his son was in the hospital, and rushed to the couple's home in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, also in western Japan. As he waited for word about his son's condition, he read a suicide note that had been addressed to him and left at the couple's home. It was typed on about seven to eight pages of paper about the size of an A4 sheet. In it, his son revealed that he had been involved in the doctoring of public records relating to Moritomo Gakuen under orders from superiors at the Finance Ministry in Tokyo, and was distraught over it.

It wasn't until the next day that he heard from the hospital. He was finally able to meet his son, but he was already dead. His son had a calm expression on his face, as if he were sleeping. The date of his death -- the 7th -- was the same as that of his wife who had passed away four years ago, though in a different month. The man recalled that in his wife's final years, when she lived in a care facility, their son would visit once a month, gently wiping her face and otherwise caring for her.

When the bereaved father learned that Nobuhisa Sagawa, the former head of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau believed to have instructed subordinates to doctor the relevant documents, resigned from his post as Tax Agency chief, he felt "a bit of relief," he said. It was in March, shortly after his son's suicide.

However, when the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office decided in May to drop various criminal charges, including the making of false official documents, against Sagawa and 37 others who were involved in the Moritomo land sale, he was disenchanted. "It was disappointing that he didn't face any charges. He was the person in charge at the time," he said.

At his son's funeral, a former colleague from the Kinki Local Finance Bureau paid a visit, and came to his home several times. However, the father has not once spoken to those with or under whom his son had worked at the time of his death, which he finds frustrating.

"I'm sure my son didn't fabricate those documents all by himself," he said. "None of the people he worked with at the time have come forward to shed light on the truth."

In June, the Finance Ministry released an investigative report indicating that former Tax Agency chief Sagawa had led efforts to doctor internal documents on the Moritomo land sale when he was the head of the ministry's Financial Bureau, and that the Financial Bureau in Tokyo had instructed the Kinki Local Finance Bureau to cooperate in the fabrication.

According to the report, the doctoring of records began on Feb. 26, 2017. Portions of documents were rewritten to avoid what could be considered problematic, such as inquiries from politicians and their aides, and discrepancies in past answers to Diet questioning. At the time, the Moritomo scandal was under extreme scrutiny in the Diet, and there were concerns within the ministry that Diet deliberations could become even more tumultuous.

At the same time, the report stated that "(Kinki) Local Finance Bureau officials felt a strong resistance to doctoring records." It also describes the process that led to the decision not to involve staff under the supervision of the Kinki bureau's Supervisory Officer for National Property Management in the fabrication of documents. Finance Minister Taro Aso has told a press conference that the man who killed himself had been instructed by the Financial Bureau in Tokyo to doctor official records.

The Moritomo land sale has been linked to the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, although the premier has repeatedly denied his and his wife's involvement in the favoritism allegations.

(Japanese original by Nana Hayashida, Okayama Bureau)

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