• Kyodo, JIJI

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that the Prime Minister’s Office was informed on March 5 by the land ministry of the existence of unaltered original documents related to a dubious sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

The scandal over the heavily discounted sale to the nationalist school operator has rocked the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe amid allegations that he or his wife, Akie, were involved in the deal.

Asked why the fact that the government knew about the original documents had not been announced earlier, Suga told a regular news conference: “We were not at the stage where we could confirm the (unaltered) documents in cooperation with the prosecutors.”

After the daily Asahi Shimbun first reported the document alterations on March 2, the land ministry compared the originals kept at its Civil Aviation Bureau and the versions the Finance Ministry had disclosed to lawmakers after the land deal came to light in February last year, sources said.

The land ministry informed the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau of the differences on March 5 and provided it with copies of the documents. The land ministry also notified the Prime Minister’s Office of the existence of the two sets of documents on March 5. The Prime Minister’s Office then instructed the land ministry to cooperate with Finance Ministry investigations into the matter, the sources said.

Last week, the Finance Ministry submitted copies of the altered documents to the Diet. On Monday of this week, the ministry admitted that 14 documents had been changed.

At a Diet meeting Wednesday, Abe said he had been briefed about the alterations on Sunday. Finance Minister Taro Aso has also said that he received a briefing on the matter the same day. Also on Wednesday, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to work toward summoning to the Diet former National Tax Agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa, a key figure linked to the scandal. Senior members of the LDP and the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan confirmed that Sagawa could be summoned to appear in the Diet “if (deemed) necessary,” an opposition lawmaker said.

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