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Editorial: Ex-Japan tax chief should tell truth over Moritomo land deal doc tampering

The wife of a Finance Ministry official who took his own life in 2018 after the news media uncovered tampering with public documents regarding a heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, has sued the government and the former head of Japan's National Tax Agency for damages, demanding the ex-tax chief "speak of the truth."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose wife Akie had ties with the Osaka-based school operator, and others have attempted to draw the curtain on the shady land deal, leaving many questions unanswered. For us to respond to the bereaved family's wishes, we should take the trial as an opportunity to get to the bottom of the scandal.

In filing the suit with the Osaka District Court, the wife of late Kinki Local Finance Bureau official Toshio Akagi, also released personal notes and his suicide note. In the documents, former tax agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa is named as the one who orchestrated the document alteration. "Everything was ordered by Mr. Sagawa," a part of his notes reads. The documents also reveal in detail how his boss at the local bureau succumbed to the pressure from Finance Ministry headquarters, even though the superior had initially shown understanding of Akagi's resistance to document tampering.

Akagi also accused senior Finance Ministry officials of "telling one lie after another" in the Diet, while revealing his agony at being forced to participate in the document doctoring. He also confided his worries that only lower-ranked employees would be blamed, and sacrificed to save the higher-ups.

Alas, to our great surprise, Finance Minister Taro Aso has played down the notes left by the deceased bureau official. "There're no new facts in them," Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, said, indicating that his ministry has no intention of reinvestigating the case. Prime Minister Abe also snubbed the memos, saying, "The Finance Ministry has thoroughly unraveled the facts," and "Document tampering should never happen again." The prime minister sounds as if he sees the matter as someone else's problem.

In a 2018 report, the Finance Ministry acknowledged that then Financial Bureau head Sagawa "determined the direction of the document falsification." However, the report failed to reveal the motives behind the malfeasance or how it unfolded.

Yet one thing we know for certain: the document alteration began precisely after Abe told the Diet, "If I or my wife Akie were involved (in the land sale), I would step down as prime minister and a Diet member." The rest is history -- any descriptions in the related documents referring to Akie Abe and other dignitaries were removed.

Did Sagawa act on his own after surmising the Abe administration's intention to fend off allegations that the prime minister and others were involved? Or were there any instructions issued by the prime minister's office or other government bodies? These are the questions that need to be answered to get to the bedrock of the scandal.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office ended up dropping indictments against Sagawa and other officials, and wrapped up their investigation. In the upcoming trial, the plaintiff is set to demand that Sagawa and other figures concerned be questioned.

When Sagawa was summoned to the Diet as a sworn witness over the scandal, he kept refusing to give testimony on the grounds that he "could be prosecuted." Apart from this coming trial, the Diet could summon him once more for testimony or he could give a press conference. Now is the time for him to tell the truth.

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