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Over 300,000 sign petition for probe into suicide of Japanese official in Moritomo scandal

Toshio Akagi is pictured in this photo provided by his family.
The elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen had planned to set up on state land that it bought is pictured in Toyonaka in the western Japan prefecture of Osaka in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Feb. 18, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- Over 300,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Japanese government and Diet to set up a third-party panel to probe the suicide of a Finance Ministry official amid a document tampering scandal over the heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

The petition was launched by the wife of Toshio Akagi, who died at the age of 54 while working for the Kinki Local Finance Bureau.

"I want to know what drove my husband to take his own life and the background to his death," she said.

Akagi's wife has already filed a lawsuit seeking some 110 million yen in damages from the government and former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa. She says that her husband was forced to falsify documents and consequently developed depression due to distress and overwork. She released a suicide note and memo that her husband left behind, and began her online drive, calling on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the heads of both chambers of the Diet to investigate the background to the falsification of the documents in detail via a third-party panel of experts. As of 3 p.m. on April 17, the petition had already garnered over 300,000 supporters.

Among the supporters is 57-year-old Yukimi Takahashi, whose 24-year-old daughter Matsuri, a new employee of advertising giant Dentsu Inc., took her own life in 2015 due to overwork. Takahashi contacted Akagi's wife, fearing that she might start to blame herself for not being able to stop her husband from taking his own life, offering her encouragement over the phone and via email. When Akagi's wife went ahead with the lawsuit, Takahashi praised her for her decision.

"I want the government to take to heart her unimaginable sorrow and the weight of the petition signatures, and have a third-party panel shed light on what happened to Mr. Akagi through an investigation," Takahashi said.

The Kinki Local Finance Bureau's heavily discounted sale of state land in the city of Toyonaka in the western Japan prefecture of Osaka came to light in February 2017. Moritomo Gakuen had planned to open an elementary school at the site. Turmoil erupted in the Diet over the finding that Abe's wife Akie at one stage had assumed the role of honorary principal of the school. Abe subsequently stated that if either he or his wife were found to be involved in the land deal, he would resign as prime minister and as a Diet member.

Later, it emerged that the Ministry of Finance had altered documents relating to the sale. In 2018, the ministry released a report admitting that 14 documents had been altered. This included deletion of the names of Akie and multiple politicians. The report noted that Sagawa, who at the time headed the ministry's Financial Bureau, led the tampering of documents, but did not go as far as to say the alterations were made with Abe in mind or delve into the involvement of politicians. The motives for and the specific background to the document tampering were never brought to light.

According to the memo left behind by Akagi, he anguished over being ordered to doctor the documents relating to the sale and fell into depression. He took his own life at his home in March 2018.

Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso have rejected calls for a renewed investigation into the Moritomo document tampering scandal.

After the number of supporters of the petition topped 300,000, Akagi's wife released a comment via her attorney on April 17, in which she asked Prime Minister Abe and Finance Minister Aso "to take the thoughts of these 300,000 petitioners and my husband's life seriously, not treating them lightly."

"Please do not run away, but open a third-party reinvestigation," she said.

Yoshihiro Katayama, a political science professor at Waseda University who was minister of internal affairs and communications from 2010 to 2011, commented, "The Ministry of Finance tried to dodge the matter by conducting an internal investigation, but an investigation that is not reviewed externally can't be trusted. Prime Minister Abe likely wanted to do all he could to avoid another probe due to the high possibility of him being placed in a disadvantageous position. The matter was deeply rooted enough to drive a worker to death, and yet for the administration, it's in one ear and out the other, and the Diet has failed to perform its role of administrative oversight. In order to force the matter upon the government and Diet, many more people than the 300,000 (that have already supported the petition) need to raise their voices."

The petition can be found online at https://www.change.org/ja

(Japanese original by Shiho Matsumoto and Kosuke Yamamoto, Osaka City News Department)

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