Finance Ministry officials have testified that former senior official Nobuhisa Sagawa told them to falsify documents on its controversial sale of state land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, it has been learned.
Sagawa, 60, apparently found problems in Moritomo-related documents with seals affixed to them and said: “Check again closely what is written in them,” according to testimony given during the ministry’s probe into the document-tampering incident.
The officials claimed that the comments by Sagawa, who was then director-general of its Financial Bureau, effectively amounted to instructions to engage in document falsification, informed sources said Saturday.
On Monday, the ministry is set to release the results of the investigation, which is mainly based on hearings with its officials. It will also punish those involved in the falsification.
The ministry has been conducting the probe since the document-tampering came to light in March. Its investigation has revealed that the Financial Bureau doctored the documents to ensure their content would align with what Sagawa was telling the Diet, the sources said.
The heavily discounted land sale to Moritomo Gakuen became a scandal in February last year. From that time, Sagawa attended many Diet meetings to defend the deal.
During the time he was giving evidence, the discrepancies between his testimony and what was actually contained in the documents widened. Thus Sagawa and other leaders in the bureau instructed junior officials to revise the documents, the sources said.
The leaders used indirect expressions, but Sagawa checked the falsification work, according to the sources.
More than 300 sections in the documents were altered, including those related to the land sale negotiations and those containing the name of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie.
The ministry also started discarding records of the negotiations after Sagawa told the Diet that the records had been disposed of in accordance with a ministry rule on storage periods.
Sagawa and other senior officials had asked their subordinates why the records were still at the ministry even after their mandated storage period had expired, the sources said. The ministry viewed this as an effective order to get rid of the documents, the sources added.
In the controversial deal, the ministry sold a plot of land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen in 2016 at a massive 86 percent discount on its assessed value to help the group cover the cost of removing waste buried at the site. The discount amounted to some ¥800 million.
Ministry officials said the huge discount was given to prevent the school operator from seeking damages from the state after more waste was found buried, the sources said.
Moritomo Gakuen wanted to open an elementary school at the site, but gave up after coming under fire over the land deal.
Abe’s wife had, at one time, been appointed honorary principal of the school and even gave a speech there.
In related news, informed sources said Saturday that the Finance Ministry is considering promoting Tsuguhiko Hoshino, 58, director-general of the Tax Bureau, to vice minister of finance.
The post has been vacant since Junichi Fukuda, 58, resigned as its top bureaucrat in April for sexually harassing a female journalist.
The ministry also looks poised to appoint Atsushi Iizuka, 59, director-general of the Customs and Tariff Bureau, as commissioner of the National Tax Agency. This post, previously held by Sagawa, is also vacant.
The ministry plans to formalize the appointments after discussions with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office, the sources said.