OSAKA - Osaka prosecutors decided Thursday not to indict former top Finance Ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa for allegedly falsifying documents on a murky land sale that has sparked allegations of cronyism by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.
Sagawa and other ministry officials had been facing claims that they doctored documents on the 2016 sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen, a nationalist school operator with ties to Abe’s wife, at a greatly discounted price.
The ministry has admitted that parts of the documents were rewritten to make them consistent with Sagawa’s testimony to the Diet, including removing references to Akie Abe and the “special circumstances” of the sale.
More than 300 sections in 14 sets of documents were manipulated after the questionable land deal came to light in February last year.
But prosecutors were apparently unable to determine that the changes were substantial enough to constitute a criminal offense, as key parts in the documents, such as the terms of the land sale contract, were not falsified and it therefore cannot be said that the essence of the papers changed substantially compared with original documents, according to informed sources.
After interviewing officials of a drilling company and analyzing relevant materials, the prosecutors concluded that the waste removal costs cannot be judged to have been excessively padded, the sources said.
The ministry plans to release the findings of an internal investigation into the issue possibly on Monday, in which Sagawa, who is the former head of the ministry’s Financial Bureau and the National Tax Agency, and several high-ranking ministry officials are expected to be held responsible.
The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office also decided not to press malfeasance charges against other officials who agreed to sell the plot of land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, for ¥134 million ($1.2 million), despite it being appraised at ¥956 million with the discount made ostensibly to cover the cost of removing buried waste.
The office’s investigative team apparently determined that the discount was likely aimed at preventing Moritomo Gakuen from suing the government for the waste causing the planned opening of an elementary school at the site to be delayed.