Japan PM takes blame for loss of trust

Georgia Reed
March 21, 2018

Abe had told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on February 17, 2017 that he would resign as prime minister and as a legislator if either he or his wife were involved in the land sale.

Putin's victory in the polls extends his rule until 2024, but Abe's public support has been pummelled by a scandal over the sale of public land to a school supported by his wife and subsequent alterations to documents relating to the deal.

But the scandal has continued to unfold with the admission last week by the Finance Ministry that it knowingly tampered with government documents to distance itself from the drawn-out cronyism scandal involving the sale of state land to Moritomo Gakuen for a fraction of its market value.

Opposition parties had been calling for the summoning of Nobuhisa Sagawa, who stepped down as head of the National Tax Agency, a unit of the Finance Ministry, earlier this month.

During Diet questioning in 2017, when he was director-general of the Financial Bureau, Sagawa said all documents related to negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen over the sale of the plot had been discarded.

Sagawa is expected to be asked how and why the edits were made, who gave the orders to do so and whether there was political involvement in the decision.

The scandal and cronyism accusations have led to calls for Mr Abe to resign.

Mitsuru Ota, Sagawa's successor as Financial Bureau director-general, said during Diet deliberations that the rewriting of documents was conducted to avoid any misunderstandings from Sagawa's past statements in the Diet. He has even vowed to step down as prime minister if the facts proved otherwise.

Abe mired in cronyism scandal, facing increasing calls for cabinet's resignation

The original documents contained the names of Akie Abe, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, and LDP politicians.

But Kotaro Tatsumi of the Japanese Communist Party said that "there is no way a public employee would do something so outrageous without being directed to do so or expecting some benefit".

He is alleged to have made false remarks in parliament a year ago related to a heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to a school operator with connections to Abe's wife Akie. Many opposition lawmakers have suggested this declaration sent ministry bureaucrats scrambling to delete evidence of such involvement.

According to Kyodo News, the LDP's approval rate fell 3.3 percentage points from February to 36.2 percent, while the rate for the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, edged up only 0.4 point to 11.5 percent.

"The big question for voters is, 'What should we do after replacing Abe?' That's why the approval rate rebounded past year", he said.

Playing along seems to be the only way forward for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Opposition lawmakers renewed demands that Abe's wife and top officials involved in the land sale be summoned to testify in parliament. "I would like to apologize once again", Abe told Parliament. The LDP is due to hold a leadership vote in September.

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