The ruling parties agreed Wednesday they are ready to summon to the Diet a key figure in the altering of Finance Ministry documents related to the controversial sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen at a massively discounted price.
Former National Tax Agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa, who resigned over the scandal on Friday, is considered a likely witness to the transaction. He has come under scrutiny for allegedly making false remarks to the Diet while serving as chief of the ministry’s Financial Bureau in charge of overseeing the land sale.
The opposition camps had demanded that Sagawa appear before the Diet to make clear why settlement documents were rewritten and whether the ministry was urged to do so by politicians.
As the scandal deepens over the questionable transaction in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife is suspected of having been involved, the Diet affairs chiefs of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito said they would reject any call by the opposition parties for Akie Abe to appear in the Diet as a sworn witness.
The ruling bloc is arguing that Abe’s wife is not directly involved in the document falsification.
The move by the LDP and Komeito is likely to draw a further backlash from the opposition bloc, which has called for Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign to take responsibility for the scandal, which has attracted fresh attention since early this month.
Secretaries-general of the six opposition parties held talks in the afternoon and agreed to demand that the ruling bloc hold Diet testimonies by Sagawa it both chambers.
In his first Diet remarks since the ministry admitted on Monday to having altered the documents, Abe again denied his and his wife’s involvement in the sale of the land at such a huge discount.
Abe also told the Upper House Budget Committee that neither he nor Aso gave instructions to alter the Finance Ministry documents.
“It is obvious that neither I nor my wife was involved (in the land discount), if you look at the documents that have not been rewritten,” he said.
Abe said in the Diet in February last year he “would quit as prime minister and as a Diet member” if evidence was found proving their involvement.
Ministry officials are suspected of having reduced the land price because of Akie Abe’s role as honorary principal of the elementary school that was to open on the site. She later withdrew from her post after the land deal came to light in February last year.
Aso maintains that some officials in the Financial Bureau had altered the documents to make them consistent with Sagawa’s testimony.
The original documents quoted Moritomo as saying Akie recommended that the project “move forward because it is a good plot of land.”
Abe said he had checked with his wife and that she said she did not make any such comment.
Changes were made in 14 documents, with the revised versions being presented to lawmakers last year.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also defended the prime minister and his wife, telling a news conference that the missing sections from the documents did not indicate that Akie had directly lobbied with the Finance Ministry.