Allegations of document tampering revive scandal dogging Japan PM Abe

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly denied any involvement on his part, or that of his wife Akie, in the sale of land to Moritomo Gakuen.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly denied any involvement on his part, or that of his wife Akie, in the sale of land to Moritomo Gakuen.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Allegations that public documents may have been altered have revived a controversy over a heavily discounted sale of public land to a school with connections to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The scandal has dogged Mr Abe for more than a year, with questions being raised about whether his wife's connection to the school meant its operator was able to buy government land cheaply.

The scandal has come to the fore again after the Asahi newspaper reported last week that Finance Ministry documents relating to the sale were altered before being submitted to lawmakers for inspection.

Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters on Tuesday (March 6) that the ministry is investigating if there was any malfeasance, including the concealment of public records.

Mr Aso said he would speak on the matter in a parliamentary committee later on Tuesday, but the session was cancelled.

Mr Abe has repeatedly denied any involvement on his part, or that of his wife Akie, in the sale of land to Moritomo Gakuen, an educational foundation that subsequently filed for bankruptcy.

The foundation ran a kindergarten in Osaka known for espousing elements of the prewar nationalist curriculum, as well as for its explicit backing of Mr Abe, and had planned to use the land for an elementary school.

There are signs the public remains concerned about the issue. A JNN poll on March 5 found Mr Abe's support fell below 50 per cent for the first time in five months, and 80 per cent of respondents said there needed to be more explanation of the land sale.

The scandal rocked Mr Abe's popularity last year (2017), with his approval rating at times falling below the disapproval rating, before a series of North Korean missile tests was seen to unnerve the public.