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Editorial: Japan govt's end to suit over bureaucrat's suicide seen as attempt to hide truth

The Japanese government has made a turnaround and fully accepted a compensation claim filed by the widow of a bureaucrat who killed himself after being forced to tamper with official documents approving the heavily discounted sale of state land to a nationalist school operator. The government's move brings the trial to an abrupt end.

    Toshio Akagi, who was employed at the Ministry of Finance's Kinki Local Finance Bureau, took his own life in 2018 at age 54 after being embroiled in the falsification of documents on the property sale to Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

    Akagi's wife, Masako Akagi, filed the lawsuit in order to find out about the cause of and processes leading up to her husband's death. She had set the amount of damages she was claiming as high as over 100 million yen (about $880,000) to prevent the government from unilaterally bringing the case to a close.

    It is intolerable for the government, which had hitherto indicated it would fight the suit, to selfishly draw the curtains on the case in an apparent bid to suppress moves to get to the bottom of the scandal.

    It is only natural for Masako Akagi to be infuriated over the abrupt end to the trial. She described being "frustrated that the government ended the lawsuit in the most underhanded way."

    In giving a reason for its about-face, the government stated that it was obvious the state was liable for the bureaucrat's suicide, but stopped short of explaining the background to its U-turn.

    With regard to the "tell-all" file that Akagi compiled detailing the processes leading up to the document doctoring, the government did not even reveal whether the file existed or not for over a year, until the court urged the government to submit it. Because the government continued to take an insincere response to the case, the closure of the trial appears all the more abrupt. It is, in the first place, unusual for the government to entirely accept the plaintiff's claim in a state reparation suit.

    Masako Akagi had intended to have her husband's superior and others summoned to the court as sworn witnesses. The government's hasty conclusion of the trial may be due to its fears of "inconvenient truths" being brought to light over the course of the trial.

    There remain numerous questions that have not been answered regarding the spate of document alterations.

    According to the Finance Ministry's investigation reports, Nobuhisa Sagawa, then head of the ministry's Financial Bureau, reportedly spearheaded the document tampering. However, his motives behind the irregularities have not been unraveled. It also remains unclear how instructions on the document falsification were given.

    It has emerged that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie had ties with Moritomo Gakuen. When grilled about the matter in the Diet, Abe stated, "If I or my wife were involved in the case, I would resign as prime minister and Diet member." It was after this remark that the document alteration began at the Finance Ministry.

    As long as the government is to pay compensation to Akagi's family using taxpayers' money, it has a responsibility to reveal the concrete processes and background to the document doctoring. It must not allow efforts to investigate the cause of the incident to be left unfinished.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has reiterated that he will "exhaust sincere explanations" over the case. Without carrying out a thorough reinvestigation into the scandal, however, there is no way the government could gain public understanding.

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