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Deceased Japan bureaucrat left copy of email seen as start of doc tampering scandal

The copy of an email sent from the Finance Ministry to the Kinki Local Finance Bureau is seen in this photo taken in Osaka's Kita Ward on Aug. 5, 2021. Toshio Akagi, a then Kinki local bureau worker, attached the copy of this email at the beginning of the "Akagi file." He later took his own life. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A "tell-all" file that a deceased Japanese government bureaucrat compiled regarding the process leading up to the tampering of Finance Ministry papers approving the heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen contained a copy of an email that corroborates another case of misconduct by the ministry.

    The "new evidence" was attached to the beginning of the "Akagi file," called after the name of Toshio Akagi, a then employee of the ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau. He took his own life in March 2018 at age 54, after claiming he was forced to falsify ministry documents that approved the high-profile property sale. What drove Akagi to leave behind the copy of the email?

    The Akagi file was released by the government on June 22 this year, in response to a request by Akagi's bereaved wife, Masako Akagi, 50. The file contains records chronicling the process leading up to the document doctoring, as well as the copies of around 40 emails exchanged between the Finance Ministry in Tokyo and its Kinki Local Finance Bureau in Osaka. Among them was a copy of one email reporting that there was a "direct instruction" given by Nobuhisa Sagawa, then head of the ministry's Financial Bureau, in relation to the tampering.

    At the outset of the 518-page Akagi file is an email that ostensibly had no connection to the exchanges made among staff over the document doctoring.

    Toshio Akagi, a then employee of the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, is seen in this photo provided by his family.

    The email, dated Feb. 16, 2017 at 11:16 p.m., was forwarded by the Finance Ministry to several Kinki Local Finance Bureau officials, including Akagi, under the title: "FW Copies of the Kinki Local Finance Bureau's approval documents." The copy shows the original email had been sent by a deputy division director at the ministry's Financial Bureau to senior officials at the same bureau 15 minutes before it was forwarded to the Kinki local bureau staff. There is a penned mark almost encircling the sent date of the original email, suggesting that Akagi apparently emphasized that part after printing the email.

    The main text of the email indicated the ministry's policy in responding to an opposition party lawmaker's demand that documents regarding the state land deal with Moritomo Gakuen be revealed.

    The deputy director first explained in the email that the lawmaker asked the ministry to have four types of documents sent from the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, including papers approving the lease of the land to Moritomo Gakuen and those sanctioning the sale of the land to the school operator.

    In describing the ministry's planned response to the lawmaker's request, the deputy director wrote: "I have absolutely no intention of bringing the (documents) to the lawmaker," and, "If we are told to submit them, we'll say, 'We've been having the Kinki (local bureau) search for them, but ...' (If there appears to be no real damage, then we will submit them later)."

    The email hints at the ministry covering up the documents sought after by the opposition party, and plotting to obstruct Diet questioning over the document tampering scandal.

    The deputy director also wrote in the email: "I'd like to explain these policies to the director general in the morning" -- suggesting that the official possibly reported the planned response to the opposition lawmaker to then Financial Bureau chief Sagawa. There were also descriptions in the email that the plans had already been approved by other senior bureau officials, hinting that the Financial Bureau systematically distorted the Diet debate.

    The email in question identified the opposition lawmaker demanding the disclosure of the series of documents as "Fukushima." That is Nobuyuki Fukushima, 51, a then House of Representatives lawmaker of the now-defunct Democratic Party. He subsequently lost his seat in the 2017 general election.

    During a lower house budget committee session on Feb. 17, 2017, the day after the email was sent, Fukushima extracted a response from then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that vehemently denied his involvement in the land deal. "If I or my wife were involved in authorizing the school or the sale of the state property, I would resign as prime minister and as a Diet member," Abe said.

    According to a 2018 investigative report released by the Finance Ministry over the document tampering scandal, Sagawa reacted to Abe's remarks and insisted that the ministry documents approving the land sale should not be brought to light. The documents contained the names of Abe's wife, Akie Abe, and other figures. It is said that the document tampering began after Abe made the statement in the Diet.

    To the Mainichi Shimbun, Fukushima said, "It (the email) shows the Finance Ministry's attitude of totally making light of the Diet, as they think 'the Diet is not such a big deal.' It clearly indicates the ministry's nature of concealing the facts."

    Fukushima recalls witnessing Moritomo Gakuen distributing papers to attendants at a local meeting held at the end of 2016. The papers asked for donations for an elementary school that the school operator sought to open using the name of Shinzo Abe. As Fukushima also received tips about a link between Abe's wife and Moritomo Gakuen, he moved ahead with a hearing investigation with Financial Bureau employees to pursue Abe's potential involvement in the land deal in the Diet. While the bureau staff had initially admitted to the presence of official records approving the property sale, they made a turnaround and stopped responding to him after the land transaction issue came to the surface in early February 2017.

    Fukushima also demanded the Finance Ministry submit relevant documents by the time the lower house budget committee question and answer session was held in February 2017, but the ministry did not comply. The lawmaker suspects that the ministry was desperate to "buy time" to avoid the Moritomo scandal becoming entangled in the Diet, and that's why the Financial Bureau leaned toward a policy of "covering up" the related documents.

    Amid the ministry's systematic involvement in the document alteration, Akagi apparently found the email in question problematic as he became increasingly opposed to the ministry headquarters' moves while working for the local bureau. This is believed to be what drove him to attach the copy of the email to the beginning of the Akagi file.

    Fukushima, who himself was a career bureaucrat at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The document tampering by bureaucrats was an unprecedented case of injustice that betrayed the state. Akagi probably wanted to show that the email was the starting point of the document falsification."

    When queried by the Mainichi in writing over the case, the Finance Ministry released a comment saying, "We find our response to the Diet regarding this matter very regrettable, and offer our deepest apology."

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

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