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Editorial: Exposing the truth in Moritomo scandal a test for Japanese democratic politics

The Finance Ministry's document tampering scandal over the cut-rate sale of Japanese government-owned land to nationalist private school operator Moritomo Gakuen is not yet over. The actual sale of the property in Osaka Prefecture and the doctoring of related documents occurred several years ago, but past events of such significance cannot be allowed to fade from memory.

    The affair claimed the life of Toshio Akagi, a worker at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau who killed himself after being forced by his Finance Ministry superiors to falsify official documents related to the land deal. His widow Masako Akagi has been fighting for years to expose every detail of the document tampering, and she recently gave a press conference at the Japan National Press Club.

    There, she told reporters that her husband could not have disobeyed the order to fake the documents.

    "It's like war," Masako said. "If your superiors say something is white, then it's white, even if it's black. He was under enormous pressure." She added that it was "wrong" for the government "not to reveal how all this happened." She repeatedly said, "I want to know the truth."

    Looking for answers, Masako filed a damages suit against the national government, but the state simply accepted liability for her husband Toshio's death, without any offer of explanation. Toshio left a written record of the goings-on over the document tampering in what is dubbed the "Akagi file," which the government at first tried mightily to keep from Masako. It then effectively killed the issue by totally acquiescing to Masako's suit.

    Asked in the Diet how the government would proceed next, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida declared his administration would "respond with care," and "sincerely explain everything." It has been four months since Kishida made those comments, but we can see no change in the government's course on this issue.

    The first question about the Moritomo deal that has yet to be answered is: Why was the land sold so cheaply to begin with? This is quickly followed by: How did the words and actions of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe, a onetime honorary Moritomo Gakuen principal, impact events?

    Masako is now suing to have documentary evidence supplied by the Finance Ministry to the local district public prosecutors' office made public. Yet the government has refused to clarify whether such documents exist or not, on the grounds that it would "impact inquiries" into the scandal. Those inquiries are now over, so this excuse does not hold water.

    Despite all this, the Diet has failed in its duty to shed light on the case. As time has passed, voices in the chamber seeking answers over the Moritomo affair have grown few.

    Masako is asking that the politicians involved and the Finance Ministry bureaucrats who gave the orders visit her husband's grave. March marked the fourth anniversary of Toshio's death, and Masako has yet to hear from the government.

    Reflecting on the stalled effort to uncover the truth about the document doctoring scandal, Masako told reporters that "the government's walls are thick and high." She added that she is pained by the attacks on her she sees on the internet, including, "How long does that woman plan to keep carrying on about this?"

    The Moritomo Gakuen scandal has raised a challenge to present democratic politics in Japan. If Prime Minister Kishida wants people to start trusting politics again, then he will have to start putting those words of four months ago into action.

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