National / Politics

Tax-filing season starts with a bang as Moritomo protests hit agency branches nationwide

JIJI

Demonstrators took to streets in a dozen cities Friday to demand the dismissal of National Tax Agency Commissioner Nobuhisa Sagawa, who is accused of giving false Diet testimony about a shady deal involving a chunk of state land sold on the cheap to a nationalist school entity.

The demonstrations outside tax offices in Tokyo, Sapporo, Nagoya, Fukuoka and other major cities coincided with the start of the 2017 tax filing period. Opposition lawmakers joined the protests.

Opposition parties accuse Sagawa of giving false Diet testimony over a heavily discounted piece of state land sold to Moritomo Gakuen, a school chain linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie.

In Tokyo, nearly a thousand people gathered outside the National Tax Agency building in Kasumigaseki, the district in Chiyoda Ward where many government entities are based.

Anger at Sagawa “made us take this action,” said Satoshi Daigo, an honorary professor at the University of Tokyo who was one of the leaders of the demonstrations.

During Diet meetings last year, Sagawa, then director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau, repeatedly claimed the ministry had destroyed the records of its negotiations with Moritomo, which planned to open an elementary school on the plot in question in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

But earlier this year, when the ministry released internal documents related to contracts with Moritomo on the land sale, Finance Minister Taro Aso claimed that they did not include records of the actual negotiations for it.

The ministry sold the plot at a huge discount, citing the presence of buried waste at the site. Opposition lawmakers suspect the ministry offered the unfair discount because of Moritomo’s ties with Akie Abe, who gave a speech at the ultranationalist school at the request of Yasunori Kagoike, its president at the time.

Later, the Board of Audit pointed out in a special report that it did not find any factors that would justify the roughly 90 percent discount, giving more ammo to the opposition camp in the Diet.

Abe and Aso are responsible for appointing someone who, as chief of the tax agency, lied to the Diet, said 73-year-old Tokyo demonstrator Tsutomu Watanabe.

In the city of Osaka, where Moritomo is based, about 50 people gathered outside the regional tax bureau to vent their frustration.

“Nobody takes responsibility and the commissioner gave no explanation for selling out the Japanese people’s assets at a cut-rate price,” said Toyonaka Municipal Assemblyman Makoto Kimura, 53. “This can’t be happening!”

“I don’t feel like filing a tax return when I feel that taxes will be used for friends of the prime minister,” the manager of design company said. “I want to know the truth.”