Shinzo Abe's wife's name removed from documents on suspected cronyism scandal


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Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Japan's most influential business lobby Keidanren, urged the government Monday to thoroughly investigate the cronyism allegation leveled at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears before journalists at his office in Tokyo on March 12, 2018.

Abe said he is acutely aware that the public is casting a critical eye on the matter, and that he will bear this in mind during its investigation.

"I take people's criticism sincerely and want Finance Minister (Taro) Aso to be responsible for pushing ahead with an investigation to fully reveal why this kind of incident happened", added Mr Abe.

Mr Aso, 77, told a separate news conference yesterday that several officials at his ministry's division in charge of the sale were involved in altering the documents to make them conform with testimony in Parliament by the then-head of the division.

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Allegations against Ms Abe, for her involvement with Moritomo Gakuen, an operator of ultraconservative schools that was able to purchase government land in Osaka at a fraction of its value, first emerged early past year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.

Abe, now in his sixth year in office, had tried to put behind him questions over the sale of state-owned land at a huge discount to a school operator with ties to his wife, Akie.

Suspicion of a cover-up could slash Abe's ratings and dash his hopes for a third term as leader of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

In the documents, references to Akie, whose role in a school project is suspected to have led to the reduced price, were deleted. "What became clear is that they debased democracy", by lying to parliament, said opposition lawmaker Renho, who uses one name.

The doubts have also sparked calls for Aso to quit, but the finance minister said on Friday that he will not step down.

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"It is an urgent task to find out the goal (of the alterations) and who authorized them, and tell the public what really happened", Sakakibara said.

"At the very least, it seems that Mr Aso's chances of surviving as finance minister are diminishing rapidly", wrote Mr Tobias Harris, vice-president of consultancy Teneo Intelligence, in an e-mail.

Sagawa was head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted previous year to tax agency chief.

Last week, tax agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who formerly oversaw the Finance Ministry bureau dealing with the land sale, resigned from his current post.

Some LDP members said the saga could undermine the party.

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"It is inconceivable that the bureaucrats on the spot had such authority [to alter the documents]", media quoted Shigeru Ishiba, an LDP lawmaker who has made no secret of his desire to challenge Mr Abe in the party race, as saying on the weekend.

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