• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday denied the Finance Ministry’s document-tampering and disposal bids were triggered by his pledge in February last year to resign if evidence was found proving he or his wife were involved in the steep discount on state land bought by a nationalist school entity.

The ministry admitted last week that it disposed of the documents to conceal its negotiations with Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties with Abe’s wife, Akie, and received a steep discount on land it bought from the ministry for a school.

The ministry said it doctored the documents to ensure they would not contradict the Diet remarks of a senior bureaucrat who denied the ministry had held talks with Moritomo before the June 2016 land deal.

The negotiation records released by the ministry, which recovered some of the documents from personal copies kept by its officials, showed Akie Abe’s aide made an inquiry with the ministry in 2015 about Moritomo’s request for a reduction in rent for the land. Moritomo had rented the lot before deciding to buy it.

Abe told a Diet committee Monday that the aide just “inquired about (the availability of) a scheme (for discount) and did not ask for the lowering of the price or for preferential treatment.”

The prime minister repeated that he does not see the need for his wife, who gave a speech at the school, to be summoned to the Diet to testify.

Akie Abe was appointed honorary principal of the elementary school Moritomo Gakuen was building on the land, but gave up the post after the land deal came to light in February last year.

The recently released records on the land negotiations between Finance Ministry officials and Moritomo, as well as related audio recordings made available earlier by the opposition camp and media reports, have reinforced suspicions that Moritomo Gakuen tried to take advantage of Akie Abe’s influence.

But Abe said the records merely show comments that Moritomo’s former president, Yasunori Kagoike, claims his wife Akie made.

For example, Kagoike in March 2016 urged a senior finance official in charge of managing state assets to dispose of waste found on the land, saying Abe’s “wife will come to a ceremony to mark a barn-raising,” according to the audio data.

Before they were tampered with, the ministry’s documents said Moritomo Gakuen quoted Akie Abe as saying in April 2014 that she though the land plot was a good one and wanted the school project to move forward.