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Editorial: Japan gov't must disclose 'tell-all' file on Moritomo doc tampering scandal

In the latest twist to the favoritism scandal over the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot to Osaka-based nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen in 2016, the presence of a document file that chronicled the Japanese Ministry of Finance's process of tempering with official records regarding the sale has come under the spotlight.

    The file is said to have been compiled by Toshio Akagi, an employee of the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau, who took his own life after becoming entangled in the document tampering based on orders he received.

    In a conversation with Akagi's wife, his former boss pointed to the existence of the file and said, "If you saw this, you'd see everything about the process of how we came to do it (tamper with the records)."

    The wife submitted the recording of this conversation to the court in a lawsuit she filed against the state and other parties, and demanded that the file be disclosed. The government, however, has not even revealed whether the file exists or not, stating, "There is no need to make a response."

    However, the file contains records kept by an individual who was directly involved in the document alteration. The state must immediately disclose the file and reveal the tampering process.

    According to an investigative report released by the Finance Ministry, the document doctoring was spearheaded by Nobuhisa Sagawa, then head of the ministry's Financial Bureau. The motives behind the document tampering, however, remain unclear, as is the chain of command for the misconduct. Finance Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, defiantly commented, "If we knew the motives, we wouldn't have this hardship."

    Many members of the public remain unconvinced about the government's stance of drawing the curtain on the scandal while leaving the truth unexplained. In June this year, a petition containing some 350,000 signatures seeking a fresh investigation into the document tampering scandal by a third-party committee was submitted to then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other officials.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who took over from Abe in September, and Finance Minister Aso have maintained the position that there is no need to re-investigate the case. However, Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and former party policy chief Fumio Kishida referred to the necessity for a re-investigation and explanation over the case during the LDP leadership race in September. Both Ishiba and Kishida were contenders in the race to pick Abe's successor.

    If the government is to continue to obscure the existence of the file and refuse to disclose it, it would not be able to regain public confidence.

    In the recording submitted to the court, Akagi's former boss also touched upon the problem regarding the government's sale of state property to Moritomo Gakuen.

    The Finance Ministry has heretofore explained that it discounted the land sale price by some 800 million yen (about $7.6 million) from the appraisal value because it would cost money to remove a large volume of garbage buried at the site. However, the ex-boss raised questions about the massive discount, saying, "There is a problem with the calculation of the 800 million yen." He also told Akagi's wife in the recording, "It wasn't confirmed that the removal would cost 800 million yen for certain."

    The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation unit that probed the case did not indict Sagawa and other concerned parties. Yet the motives behind the ministry's 800-million-yen discount remain unclear.

    Why was the state land deal heavily discounted, and why were the official documents regarding the murky deal tampered with? Unless the motives and processes behind the cases are unraveled, the document tampering scandal must not be brought to a close.

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