Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso will take a year’s pay cut to take responsibility for officials under him who altered documents on a cut-price land sale to a school with links to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie.
Aso, who is also deputy prime minister, said he isn’t considering resigning. He’s the highest ranking official to be punished over the scandal, which has harmed the government’s popularity and thrown the legislative calendar into disarray.
A probe by his own ministry didn’t directly link Aso with the altering of the documents. Losing a year’s salary won’t mean much to him financially, given he was born into Japan’s elite and is independently wealthy. But it is symbolic.
“Twelve months’ pay is the heftiest that I’ve ever seen,” said Musashino University Institute for Global Affairs’ Jun Okumura. “It indicates the seriousness with which Aso and by extension the Abe administration is making a show of taking the MOF transgressions.”
Okumura added that with the relatively stiff penalties, the Abe administration would be looking to put the scandal behind it and make a renewed push on its legislative agenda.
The school operator was known for its nationalist leanings and ran a kindergarten in Osaka that espoused elements of the prewar curriculum.
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The scandal has already brought the resignation of tax chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who resigned in March. Sagawa said in parliament after his resignation that no one from Abe’s office ordered the falsification of the documents.
Sagawa was in charge of the finance ministry bureau that directly oversaw the sale of public land to Moritomo Gakuen for a fraction of the cost of comparable plots. It later emerged that the ministry had doctored documents related to the transaction to remove the names of the prime minister, his wife and Aso.
The opposition and some members of Abe’s own party have called for Aso to step down over his ministry’s handling of the scandal and sexual harassment allegations that forced the resignation of the ministry’s top bureaucrat.
In a JNN poll released Monday, 54 percent of respondents said that Aso should resign over the scandals.
It’s unclear whether the punishments will put the land scandal to rest and enable the Abe government to move forward with its agenda. Aso himself has brought scandals back to the front pages through tactless comments before.