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Japanese gov't releases 'tell-all' file on tampering scandal to wife of late bureaucrat

Masako Akagi, the wife of late Toshio Akagi, is seen checking a copy of a document file released by the government, in Osaka's Kita Ward on June 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda)

OSAKA -- The Japanese government on June 22 disclosed a document file that a Finance Ministry bureaucrat compiled detailing the background to the tampering of ministry papers related to the heavily discounted sale of state land, a lawyer representing the family of the deceased worker has revealed.

    The file was put together by Toshio Akagi, a then employee of the Kinki Local Finance Bureau based in Osaka, before he took his own life in 2018 at age 54. While the government had long withheld whether the document file existed or not, the disclosure of the file may shed light upon the reason behind the systematic document doctoring and the details of the instructions given to ministry employees for the misconduct.

    The file contained passages describing the local finance bureau as having been resistant to document tampering, including: "We raised strong objections to the Finance Ministry, stating that alterations were problematic and should not be carried out."

    The state-owned land lot in question, located in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, was sold off to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen at a massively discounted price in 2016. Finance Ministry documents sanctioning the land sale were later found to have been falsified. The approval documents contained the names of Akie Abe, the wife of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and several political figures.

    A copy of the document file -- known as the "Akagi file" -- was mailed to the office of the bereaved family's attorney in the city of Osaka on the morning of June 22. The attorney is set to release the content of the file later the same day. Akagi's wife Masako, 50, has filed a damages lawsuit against the government and other parties, and oral arguments are set for June 23 at the Osaka District Court. The government has also submitted a copy of the document file to the court.

    According to the government, the file contains papers chronicling the events leading up to the document doctoring, as well as emails exchanged between the Finance Ministry and the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, and attachment material.

    A schedule book that Akagi had used contained descriptions hinting that he had copied emails concerning the document tampering from computers and storage media at his department at the local finance bureau. The file may contain not only emails addressed to Akagi himself but also detailed exchanges between the local bureau and the Finance Ministry, which were shared at the bureau.

    Masako Akagi, the wife of late Toshio Akagi, is seen checking the copy of a document file released by the government, in Osaka's Kita Ward on June 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda)

    According to the complaint for the lawsuit and other sources, Akagi, then a senior government property management officer at the local bureau, had been forced to tamper with public documents several times since February 2017. He was later diagnosed with depression and took a leave of absence from work. In March 2018, immediately after the document tampering scandal surfaced, he took his own life at his home.

    In an investigation report released by the Finance Ministry in June 2018, it was recognized that senior Finance Ministry officials, upon confirming the intention of then Financial Bureau chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, ordered the Kinki Local Finance Bureau to falsify the documents, and that the ministry and the local bureau worked together in moving forward with the tampering. Although the ministry made public when those instructions were made through which routes, and the fact that the local finance bureau once opposed the document tampering, it withheld the detailed exchanges leading up to the falsification. According to the investigation report, then Prime Minister Abe told the Diet in February 2017, "If I or my wife were involved (in the land deal), I would resign as prime minister and as a Diet member."

    The presence of the Akagi file emerged after Akagi's superior at the time told his wife that the file "documents everything" about the background to the tampering.

    Since bringing her case to court in March 2020, Akagi's wife has argued that the disclosure of the document file is indispensable in verifying the psychological burden inflicted on her late husband. While the government had refused to specify whether the file exists or not, it made a turnaround and admitted to its presence in May 2021 in response to a district court's request. The government then suggested that it would disclose the file by the June 23 oral arguments after partially blackening it out.

    Speaking to reporters in Osaka on June 22, Akagi's wife said about the release of the file, "I'm choked with emotions when I think about what hardships my husband went through. I'd like to read the file thoroughly as this is my husband's last voice."

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

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