Japan Finance Ministry set to admit altering land deal papers

TOKYO • Japan's Finance Ministry will admit that it altered documents involving a controversial sale of state-owned land, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said yesterday.

The admission is expected to raise the heat on Finance Minister Taro Aso, and threaten to erode Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity.

The Finance Ministry plans to report to Parliament tomorrow that it has found instances where content was deleted from documents submitted to lawmakers, the source said. Telephone calls to the ministry for comment went unanswered.

An admission would deal a fresh blow to Mr Abe, who has struggled for months to draw a line under suspicions that a school operator used ties with Mr Abe's wife to get a discounted deal on land in the western city of Osaka.

It would also ratchet up the pressure on Mr Aso, who said he had no intention to step down over the affair, which led to the resignation of the National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa on Friday.

On the day of Mr Sagawa's resignation, press reports said the police were investigating as a possible suicide the death of an official at a Finance Ministry bureau that handled the land deal.

Mr Abe's grip on power has not appeared to be at risk, so far, because his ruling coalition has big majorities in both Houses of Parliament. But falling support could complicate his bid for a third term as Liberal Democratic Party leader in a September party vote.

The government's chief spokesman said he was notified of the death, but declined to give details.

The scandal gained fresh momentum last week, with opposition parties turning up the heat after the Asahi Shimbun daily said the land sale documents might have been doctored.

Mr Abe has denied allegations that either he or his wife did favours for the operator of the school, Moritomo Gakuen.

Media reports said the land was sold for around a tenth of its market value, and that the kindergarten had announced plans to name Mr Abe's wife Akie as the honorary principal of a primary school being built on the same plot. Mr Abe has said his wife only "reluctantly" accepted the post of honorary principal, and has since "resigned".

Mr Abe's grip on power has not appeared to be at risk, so far, because his ruling coalition has big majorities in both Houses of Parliament.

But falling support could complicate his bid for a third term as Liberal Democratic Party leader in a September party vote. Re-election would put him on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'Japan Finance Ministry set to admit altering land deal papers'. Print Edition | Subscribe