A cronyism scandal that rocked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration two years ago has suddenly been resurrected, threatening the administration again.
The wife of a former Finance Ministry official who killed himself in March 2018 filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the ministry and Nobuhisa Sagawa, former chief of its financial bureau, seeking damages of ¥110 million.
The plaintiff alleges that, in 2017, Sagawa and other ministry officials forced Toshio Akagi, then 54, to falsify government documents recording details of a dubious land transaction involving school operator Moritomo Gakuen that went on to become the topic of a high-profile scandal.
Intense stress as a result of that pressure eventually led to his suicide, the plaintiff claims.
The plaintiff also revealed that Akagi left what is claimed to be his suicide note, detailing the instructions he received from Sagawa and other senior ministry officials.
The revelation is likely to revive public attention on the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, and could deal further political damage to Abe’s administration.
The existence of the suicide note was first reported Tuesday on the website of news magazine Shukan Bunshun.
“Nobody says ‘no’ to Sagawa, who is the chief of the financial bureau and a power harassment bureaucrat. … This is the kingdom of finance ministry bureaucrats,” Akagi wrote in the note, according to Shukan Bunshun.
“It’s so scary that I will lose my mind. … I say goodbye,” the note was reported as saying.
In June 2018, the Finance Ministry published an investigation report that concluded Sagawa had led the ministry’s overall efforts to alter the documents. Mild punishments were issued for some senior ministry officials involved, including Sagawa himself.
But details of how ministry officials may have pressured Akagi and other officials at the Kinki regional bureau of the ministry to falsify the government documents have largely remained unknown. All of the senior financial ministry officials had since been promoted to higher government positions — including Sagawa, who was appointed as the head of the National Tax Agency in July 2017.
Sagawa has insisted during Diet sessions there was nothing inappropriate in the land sale to Moritomo Gakuen. Opposition lawmakers have claimed Abe promoted Sagawa to reward his tough stance in defending the administration.
Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Abe, had served as an honorary principal for the elementary school run in Osaka by the same firm that operates Moritomo Gakuen. Officials at the ministry were suspected to have hugely discounted the price of a plot of land sold to Moritomo Gakuen in 2016, after Moritomo officials flaunted their ties with the first lady.
According to the note, ministry officials started pressuring Akagi to alter the documents soon after Abe told a Diet session on Feb. 17, 2017, that he would immediately resign if it was ever shown that he or his wife “was involved” in the suspicious land sale to Moritomo.
After learning about Abe’s remark at the Diet, ministry officials started pressuring the Kinki regional bureau of the ministry, including Akagi, to alter the documents, the suicide note suggests.