Japanese official denies Abe pressure in school land deal

Cristina Cross
March 29, 2018

At that time, Abe said he would resign as prime minister and Diet member if it became clear that either he or his wife were involved in the land deal.

Akie Abe has previously denied involvement with Moritomo Gakuen but later stepped down as honorary principal at the foundation's planned elementary school following news reports of the 2016 land sale.

Japanese legal experts have commented on testimony by a former Finance Ministry bureau chief related to a scandal involving a sale of state-owned land in Osaka.

"This is an issue only for the finance bureau (of the ministry). therefore we never reported outside the finance bureau. not to mention reporting to the prime minister's office", said Sagawa, 60.

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However, the official declined to answer detailed questioning about how and when documents were altered, saying he was under criminal investigation.

The row deepened when the finance ministry admitted official records of the sale were altered, with references to Abe, his wife, and Finance Minister Taro Aso scrubbed.

Imai's irritated response came as strong criticism was leveled against Sagawa, who was promoted to the tax agency chief in July 2017 as "the right person for the right job", as the latter flatly refused to answer any questions regarding the document doctoring scandal while proactively denying the involvement of the prime minister and his office.

The opposition camp, however, are gearing up to summon Akie Abe and others to give testimony soon in a legitimate bid to conclude the protracted scandal that has seen the approval rating for Abe's cabinet plummeting, according to recent media polls.

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"I am deeply sorry if this has undermined public trust in civil servants across the nation", Sagawa said, bowing before lawmakers.

Outside parliament where Sagawa testified, hundreds of protesters called Abe a liar and demanded his resignation.

The affair took a tragic turn earlier in the month when an official from the finance ministry apparently involved in the scandal took his own life.

Almost half of Japanese voters believe Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should quit to take responsibility over a cronyism scandal and cover-up that have sent his support sliding, according to an opinion poll released Monday.

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The liberal TV Asahi's poll Monday said public support dropped by 11.7 percentage points to 32.6 percent.

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