The Daily Update - Japanese government scandal

Over the weekend the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Finance Minister Taro Aso came under growing pressure after a suspected cronyism scandal involving a land sale deal reared its head again. The scandal, which also involves Abe’s wife, Akie, is over the sale of government land sold to school operator Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka in 2016 at a hugely discounted price. According to reports, the land was sold at USD7.5mn below market value.

The scandal, which has been simmering for more than a year, has heated up after it was revealed that both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister’s names were removed from documents associated with the land sale. After refusing to resign, Aso told a news conference that several senior officials at the finance ministry ordered the alteration of documents to bring them in line with testimony given to parliament by the then head of the division.  In total 14 documents had been altered. Yukio Edano, the leader of opposition demanded answers when talking to reporters. ‘We have to question everything thoroughly and strictly - what was the reason, who ordered it’ adding ‘What about the multiple explanations in parliament - did they diverge from the truth?’.

The controversy has already started to claim senior officials in Abe’s government. On Friday he approved the resignation of Nobuhisa Sagawa who was Commissioner of the National Tax Agency. Last February, Sagawa answered questions to the national Diet, which includes both the lower and upper house, insisting that bureau officials had in no way negotiated a price with the school operator. Sagawa also admitted destroying some documents related to the scandal, triggering the investigation. After the emergence of a voice recording casting doubt on the officials claims, his position became untenable.

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