Senior Finance Ministry official who defended government in Moritomo scandal given promotion

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The government said Tuesday it will promote Nobuhisa Sagawa, a senior Finance Ministry official who defended the central government amid a scandal involving a shady land deal and school operator Moritomo Gakuen, to the head of the National Tax Agency.

The promotion, effective Thursday, has drawn varying reactions from users on social media, including those who regard it as a reward from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for defending him in the Moritomo Gakuen scandal.

During Diet sessions, Sagawa, as head of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, claimed that the Finance Ministry had already discarded key documents covering negotiations which led to an 86 percent discount for a parcel of government-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen in June 2016.

Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minister, at one time served as honorary principal of an elementary school that was to be built on the land. Opposition lawmakers suspected that the ministry gave the special discount because of Akie’s close ties with the school operator, repeatedly grilling Sagawa during Diet sessions.

However, due to a lack of documentation by the ministry, key details of negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen remain unknown. Abe and his wife have denied any involvement in the ¥134 million deal.

“Now you can make an excuse by saying ‘all records have been erased’ if a National Tax Agency inspection team raids you,” Twitter user @suguru0220 wrote.

“Nobody can complain even if anyone trying to evade taxes discards documents or other stuff because now this guy is the head of the National Tax Agency,” wrote another user, @menseki_kun.

Asked why Sagawa will be promoted, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to explain, saying the central government in general does not comment on individual personnel changes.

“We’ve just chosen the right person for the right position,” Suga said. “We’d like to refrain from answering about specific details of processes.”