OSAKA -- Hearings for a lawsuit filed by the wife of a Finance Ministry official who killed himself after becoming entangled in the Moritomo document tampering scandal commenced in the Osaka District Court on July 15.
Masako Akagi was married to Toshio, who died aged 54. He was working for the Kinki Local Finance Bureau in central Japan during the period when revelations of a heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen were emerging. She has demanded compensation for damages from the national government and former Finance Ministry Financial Bureau chief Nobuhisa Sagawa. In an interview the day before her first statement in court, she spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun about why she decided to set about taking legal action, and what pushed her to make the decision.
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Mainichi: Revelations that a state-owned plot of land had been sold by the Kinki Local Finance Bureau to Moritomo Gakuen at an extremely low price surfaced in February 2017. The local finance bureau was then put under pressure to respond to questioning in Diet sessions. Did you sense anything unusual about your husband's attitude at the time?
Masako Akagi: While we were visiting a park, my husband received a phone call from a boss at work who he trusted. After, my husband told me, "It seems my boss is in trouble, so I want to go help," and left the park to go to the local finance bureau. From that day on, he seemed to gradually lose energy, and smiled less. He also seemed to be stressed about going to work. But at that time I didn't know any of the details as to why he was feeling down.
M: When did you find out that your husband had been involved in tampering documents?
A: There were reports in the media on March 2, 2018, that the Finance Ministry had altered documents. When I mentioned it to him, he confided in me for the first time, and told me, "I'm the one that did it."
M: He passed away five days after that conversation, didn't he?
A: Yes. On the morning of March 7, he came out to the doorway as I was leaving for work and told me, "Thank you." Normally he'd be in the living room when I left. I sent him an email saying, "Are you worrying yourself tired? It's not good to worry," but there was no reply. When I returned home after coming back from work early, he was already gone. It was almost his 55th birthday. It's so sad ...
M: Akagi was known for his earnest attitude toward his work, wasn't he?
A: My husband had apparently once told a neighbor of ours, "I'm employed by the citizens of Japan." I think that he couldn't forgive document alteration, which went against his convictions. I imagine that he probably carried feelings of regret within himself, and resentment toward the people at the Finance Ministry in Tokyo for him being forced to do the tampering. But, I wasn't able to help him.
M: What made you decide to file this suit?
A: Even though I sent a letter asking for an explanation of what happened and an apology from Financial Bureau chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, all I received was an acknowledgement that the letter had reached him. I felt like I was being ignored. Even when I made freedom of information requests to the national government, because I wanted to know about the events that led to my husband's death being confirmed as an accident in the line of duty (which falls under work-related accidents applicable for compensation from the government), the documents were mostly blacked out.
I thought, how dare they send me blacked out papers even when a colleague who gave 30 years of service to their institution has passed away after being forced to take criminal-like actions. I set out to take legal action because my distrust had accumulated from these incidents. I actually do not want to do this. I wish to live a quiet life.
M: What do you want to demand in the litigation?
A: I want to know what really happened. I want Sagawa to look me in the eye while speaking right in front of me. How did he give orders for the document tampering? My husband wrote in his personal notes that "They were Sagawa's instructions," but is this true? If it's not true, then I would like him to say so, and explain how he really gave the instructions. I want to know why these events came to pass.
M: Akagi had written in personal notes that he left that, "Although I was resistant, there are questions as to how I should take responsibility as someone with involvement. I wanted to give an explanation in a public setting."
A: I feel as if I inherited that dying wish, like he had passed the baton to me. Two years have passed (since my husband's death) and I haven't been able to carry it out for a long time, but now I can. I think that my husband is pleased with my actions, too. The feeling of regret that I couldn't help him at the time has carried me through. I can't avoid blaming myself, but I believe that rather than blaming myself, I now have things I must do in preparation for the lawsuit.
M: What are your feelings going into the oral proceedings at court on July 15?
A: I had initially thought that I couldn't do it. But, the regret for not being able to help my husband has remained with me this whole time. I would like to at least do what I can.
M: What was it like when you first met your husband?
A: I married him because I was drawn to his kindness and sincerity. He liked Japanese calligraphy and rakugo (traditional comic storytelling), so we often went to exhibitions and rakugo theaters. I think that the weekend drives and the other little things we did made me the happiest. We would drop by the supermarket together to shop on weekdays. These days, I find myself remembering those things very often.
(Original Japanese interview by Shiho Matsumoto and Haruka Ito, Osaka City News Department)