Transport minister Chikage Ogi brushed aside mounting calls Tuesday for the president of Japan Public Highway Corp. to step down over allegations it doctored its financial statements to cover up huge debts.

Ogi’s defense of Haruho Fujii comes after a major auditing firm released a report Friday asserting the financial soundness of the semigovernmental organization.

Shin Nihon & Co. said that while discovering minor errors in calculations, the firm’s balance sheet released in June is credible. It showed that the highway operator’s assets exceed debts by 5.76 trillion yen as of March 31.

Ogi had ordered Japan Highway to have its balance sheet checked by a major auditing firm after one of its senior officials alleged the corporation had covered up a “secret” balance sheet showing that debts greatly exceeded assets.

“Even though some miscalculations were found in the balance sheet, (the auditing firm) has proved that calculations were made basically in line with a method adopted by an authorized auditing committee,” Ogi told reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

“If (Japan Highway) was proved to have attempted window dressing . . . the organization as a whole, including its top management, would have been held responsible.”

She said the miscalculations, which overestimated the firm’s assets by some 74.3 billion yen, were “allowable.”

Referring to the secret balance sheet, Ogi warned that leaking such internal information to outsiders would be considered industrial espionage in the private sector and would lead to criminal charges.

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