Opposition party policy chiefs demanded Sunday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, testify in the Diet over a controversial discounted sale of state land to a school operator once linked to her.
The controversial deal involved last year’s sale of a plot of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to school operator Moritomo Gakuen for ¥134 million — a steep 86 percent discount, according to the Board of Audit, the government’s spending watchdog.
Akie Abe had been set to become the honorary principal of the school, which was slated to open in April with a curriculum based on prewar patriotism, but cut her ties after the scandal broke.
The opposition made the demand during a television debate after the board said in a report Wednesday that the government had sold the land for a highly discounted price based on faulty data after wrongly estimating the cost of removing industrial waste left in the plot.
In the debate, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party demanded testimony from key individuals related to the alleged scandal, including Akie Abe.
“I want to know the intentions and background behind the Finance Ministry’s decision” to make such a “dangerous” deal, CDP deputy leader and policy chief Akira Nagatsuma said. “It’s natural to think that the ministry surmised the wishes of many people, including those in the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said.
The ministry manages state-owned land and other assets.
Nagatsuma suggested that his party will grill the prime minister in Lower House Budget Committee meetings set to kick off Monday.
Norihisa Tamura, acting chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, said the issue of whether to summon Abe’s wife before the Diet “should be dealt with carefully.”
But Tamura said it is true that the land sale procedures were not transparent, signaling the LDP’s plan to seek explanations from the government.
Several opposition parties have been calling for months for Akie Abe to be summoned, a request the ruling coalition has been reluctant to acquiesce to.
But last week’s Board of Audit report has apparently given fresh ammunition to the opposition in its pursuit of the issue.
Akihisa Nagashima, policy chief of the Kibo no To (Party of Hope), said the ruling coalition should also consider whether National Tax Agency Commissioner Nobuhisa Sagawa is fit for his current post. As director-general of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, Sagawa was in a position to oversee the controversial land sale.
The Finance Ministry claimed that the price of the land was greatly discounted because an estimated 19,520 tons of industrial waste was buried at the site, a claim that, if true, would have cost ¥819.7 million to be removed.
However, the Board of Audit report suggested that the actual amount of waste at the site was likely far less than the ministry’s estimate.
The board, using several different methods of calculation, showed the range could have been between 6,196 tons and 13,927 tons.
It also said that it could not estimate the exact cost of disposing of the waste, pointing out that many documents were discarded or simply not produced by government officials.
The board “has recognized situations (linked to the sale), which are not necessarily appropriate” and the government “should have more carefully studied” the land deal conditions, the report said.