National / Politics

Former tax chief Nobuhisa Sagawa faces cut in retirement pay over Moritomo document-tampering

Kyodo

The Finance Ministry is expected to strictly reprimand former official Nobuhisa Sagawa for falsifying government documents with his subordinates in connection with the murky land sale that launched the Moritomo Gakuen cronyism scandal dogging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, government sources said Friday.

The ministry is expected to release a report on its internal probe Monday that will include a reprimand equivalent to a suspension and a reduction in retirement pay, they said. Sagawa has already resigned from his post as tax agency chief and is no longer a public servant.

“I want Finance Minister Taro Aso to reprimand (those involved), strictly taking into consideration the harsh public eye and do all he can to prevent a recurrence,” Abe told the Upper House on Friday.

Sagawa told the ministry investigators involved in the internal probe that he didn’t instruct his subordinates to falsify the documents. But since Sagawa was involved in the decision-making process and since multiple officials believed they were instructed by him, the report is expected to acknowledge Sagawa was effectively the one behind the wrongdoing, the sources said. Other officials will also be reprimanded, they said.

Sagawa and the others face claims they doctored documents on a sweetheart 2016 deal involving state-owned land in Osaka Prefecture to Moritomo Gakuen, a nationalist school operator with ties to Abe’s wife.

The ministry admits that parts of the documents were rewritten by deleting references to Akie Abe and Liberal Democratic Party politicians, and by describing the sale as being under “special circumstances.” It said the changes were made to make the papers jive with Sagawa’s earlier testimony over the scandal in the Diet.

Osaka prosecutors decided not to indict Sagawa, apparently because they were unable to determine whether the changes wrought by the document-tampering were substantial enough to constitute a criminal offense.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office also decided not to press malfeasance charges against other officials who agreed to sell the plot of land. Moritomo Gakuen got the parcel, which was appraised at ¥956 million, for just ¥134 million ($1.2 million) after a discount that was ostensibly provided to cover the cost of removing waste buried on it.

The scandal came to light in February 2017. It has continued to draw fire from the opposition camp and even members of the ruling coalition, sapping Abe’s support ahead of an upcoming presidential race in which he will seek a third term.

Things took a tragic turn earlier this year when a civil servant involved in the scandal committed suicide, leaving a note saying he had been ordered to alter the documents.

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