Transport minister Nobuteru Ishihara is avoiding the key issue of whether Japan Highway Public Corp. President Haruho Fujii really hid the negative net worth of the government-backed entity in his ongoing battle to get Fujii fired, JH and ministry officials said Saturday.

The officials said the controversy surrounding Fujii’s defiance of Ishihara’s order to resign is shifting attention away from the question of whether JH, which has been targeted for privatization, is in a state of negative net worth and whether its president attempted to conceal it.

Referring to Ishihara’s complaint that JH could not back up its June financial statement showing assets eclipsing liabilities by 5.76 trillion yen, a senior ministry official defended Fujii, saying, “It could not he helped that JH lacked such data because of the length of a mandatory period for the preservation of official documents.

“If the minister cites the lack of data or the allegations that JH hid the financial report, Mr. Fujii would be in an advantageous position (against the government) if he files a lawsuit demanding it nullify its decision to strip him of his post,” the official said.

On Oct. 6, Ishihara, minister of land, infrastructure and transport, said he would fire Fujii due to “citizens’ suspicions” related to the scandal.

At that time, Ishihara told a news conference, “Unless Mr. Fujii can convince me (of the truth of his assertions), the government would not be able to wipe out citizens’ suspicions” that Fujii ordered the report concealed.

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