TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday (March 14) that the documents disclosed this week related to a controversial discount land sale show there was no involvement by either him or his wife in the deal.
Mr Abe and close ally Finance Minister Taro Aso are under pressure over the finance ministry's admission this week that it had doctored records related to the sale of state-owned land to a school operator with ties to Mr Abe's wife, Akie.
Copies of documents released by the finance ministry on Monday showed that references to Mr Abe, his wife and Mr Aso were removed from the ministry’s records of the sale to school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
"When you look at the documents even before they were altered, it is clear that my wife and I were not involved," Mr Abe told an upper house budget committee on Wednesday.
Mr Abe and Mr Aso both told Parliament that they had never instructed officials at the finance ministry to alter the documents.
Mr Abe has said he would resign if evidence were found that they had.
According to the ministry documents, a comment from Moritomo Gakuen citing Mrs Abe as telling him: “This is good land so please proceed,” was removed.
Yasunori Kagoike, the former head of Moritomo Gakuen, and his wife remain in custody after being arrested last July over the deal.
Asked about the reference on Wednesday, Mr Abe said: “I checked with my wife and she says she said no such thing. My wife was neither the person in charge of establishing the school nor Mr Kagoike’s boss, so naturally she would not have made such a remark.”
The suspicion of a cover-up has rocked the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and could dash Mr Abe's hopes of winning a third term as party leader at a vote in September. Losing the party leadership would ruin Mr Abe's chances of becoming Japan's longest-serving prime minister.
Opposition lawmakers are calling for Mr Aso to step down to take responsibility, and some analysts believe his resignation is inevitable.
A survey by the Sankei daily showed 71 per cent of respondents said Mr Aso should resign, while support for Mr Abe's administration slid six points from last month to 45 per cent.
Another poll released by public broadcaster NHK yesterday showed that support for the Abe government had dropped to the lowest since he won a resounding re-election last October.
His support fell by two percentage points to 44 per cent from last month, NHK said, while a separate survey in the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed support down six percentage points to 48 per cent.