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Editorial: Japan gov't urged to fully disclose 'tell-all' file in school land sale scandal

The Japanese government has admitted that there does exist documents reportedly chronicling bureaucrats' tampering of Finance Ministry papers approving the heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

    The documents were compiled by Toshio Akagi, then an employee of the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau. He later took his own life after claiming he was forced to falsify documents. In March 2020, Akagi's wife filed a suit against the government and other parties to demand the documents' public release.

    The government, however, had previously declined to specify whether the documents -- called the "Akagi file" -- exist, claiming that "There is no need to respond," and, "We're searching for them now."

    Following a court request, the government finally acknowledged the documents do exist. The government deserves criticism for attempting to cover up the file's existence.

    The government says it intends to release the Akagi file. Nonetheless, full disclosure is not expected, as the state has explained it will black out portions that, if publicly available, "could significantly disrupt the execution of public duties."

    The Moritomo Gakuen saga began when a plot of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, was sold to the Osaka-based school corporation at an extraordinary discount.

    The Finance Ministry cited the cost of removing massive volumes of waste found buried at the site as part of the reason behind the approximately 800-million-yen (about $7.33 million) discount on the property's appraised value.

    As it turned out, Moritomo Gakuen had ties to Akie Abe, the wife of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. When grilled in the Diet over the enormously discounted land sale, Mr. Abe fired back, stating, "If I or my wife were involved, I would step down as prime minister or as a lawmaker." It was precisely after this remark that tampering of related records at the Finance Ministry began.

    An investigation report filed by the Finance Ministry says the document doctoring was orchestrated by Nobuhisa Sagawa, then director-general of the ministry's Financial Bureau. His motives for the misconduct and the chain of command during the incident remain unclear.

    Regarding Sagawa's possible motives for the tampering, Finance Minister Taro Aso treated the scandal as if it were someone else's affair, saying, "Had we known about it, we wouldn't be going this far."

    The Akagi file reportedly encompasses detailed instructions issued by the deceased bureaucrat's superiors, and records from before and after the document alterations.

    A former supervisor to Akagi was quoted as telling his wife, "If you see this (file), you'll learn everything about the process we took in (falsifying) the documents."

    To get to the bottom of the document tampering scandal, it is imperative that the Akagi file is fully disclosed.

    Distrust in the government's response to the Moritomo Gakuen issue is deep-rooted among the Japanese public. In June 2020, some 350,000 people signed a petition demanding the state establish a third-party panel to reinvestigate the scandal.

    Now that the government has itself ascertained the Akagi file exists, it can no longer keep misleading on the issue. The Moritomo Gakuen saga is not over. We call on the government to open a fresh investigation into the case.

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