Abe, gov't in hot water as more evidence comes to light about state's influence in shady Moritomo deal

2018-03-17 10:41Xinhua Editor: Li Yan ECNS App Download

Along with the admission this week that the Finance Ministry knowingly tampered with government documents to distance itself from a cronyism scandal involving the cut-price sale of state land to a nationalist school operator, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now under further scrutiny following the latest revelations from a contractor connected to the shady deal.

A contractor connected to the land deal, that has implicated Abe, his wife and senior ministers in a protracted influence-peddling scandal, said that it gave false information on buried waste at the site and that this information was requested by the government, reports stated Friday.

According to the latest information on the scandal, the contractor said the falsified information it gave on the buried waste led to the land being sold at far below its appraisal value.

The waste buried at the state-owned site in Osaka, that would be sold to nationalist school operator with ties to Abe's wife, Moritomo Gakuen, at just 14 percent of its market value, was inspected by a construction company who told Osaka prosecutors that it had falsely declared that garbage was buried at the site deeper than was the actual case.

The company said it gave the false information as the school operator along with the government had demanded it do so.

The removal of the fabricated amount of garbage was subtracted from the land price and the plot sold to Moritomo Gakuen at a huge discount, with the operator planning to build an elementary school there and for Akie Abe, the prime minister's wife, to serve as its honorary principal.

After the scandal first came to light in February last year, Akie quickly severed her affiliation with the school and its operator.

Prosecutors were told by the construction company that it had determined the true depth of the buried waste to be 3 meters.

But at the request of the government and Moritomo the company falsely changed the depth to 3.8 meters, with the measurement not being confirmed by the local chapter of the Finance Ministry or other officials.

The Board of Audit of Japan subsequently concluded after investigations that the "basis of the land discount was insufficient" as there were no materials found that proved the initial claim of waste being buried at a depth of 3.8 meters.

Despite the scandal continuing to draw staunch indignation from opposition parties and the public, the latter who have staged rallies calling for Abe to step down for his perceived involvement in the scandal and for Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign to account for his ministry knowingly tampering with state documents related to the deal, parliament convened as per normal Friday, as the opposition bloc ended its boycott.

On Thursday, however, it was reported that Aso will not attend a meeting of Group of 20 finance chiefs in Argentina next week but will appear at a parliamentary session here over the state document altering scandal.

After the Finance Ministry admitted this week that it had deliberately altered documents connected to the cut-price sale of state-owned land, Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, has been under close scrutiny.

Lawmakers will quiz Aso in an Upper House Budget Committee session on Monday, they have said.

Both camps are also planning to summon former National Tax Agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa to the Diet, to be quizzed over allegations he gave false evidence in the Diet while undertaking his duties as chief of the ministry's Financial Bureau.

The Financial Bureau was in charge of the shady land deal.

The former head of the school operator, Yasunori Kagoike, following the prime minister pledging to step down if any illicit involvement on his part was found in any dealings with Moritomo, repeated a claim that he was handed 1 million yen (9,440 U.S. dollars) by Akie, as a donation, in a yet-to-be resolved scandal.

Akie Abe was known to have had close ties with Moritomo Gakuen and has given a number of speeches at one of its schools.

Kagoike claimed that he had previously paid Akie Abe 100,000 yen (945 U.S. dollars) for a speech she gave.

Akie Abe was set to become the honorary principle at the new school built on the cut-price land in Osaka's Toyonaka city, although abruptly stepped down as the scandal quickly widened and intensified.

Moritomo Gakuen first made the headlines when a kindergarten it was operating was found to have disseminated hate speech deriding Korean and Chinese residents of Japan.

The school operator had been known for its nationalist curriculum and was widely criticized for making kindergarten-aged children memorize the Imperial Rescript on Education.

The rescript, which demands devotion to the Emperor and sacrifice for Japan, was abolished after World War II, but reintroduced around 16 years ago by Tsukamoto kindergarten, the walls of which are lined by historical pictures of the imperial family to which the students bow to as they pass in the corridor.

Video footage that quickly went viral on popular social media sites as well as on regular televised broadcasts from a sports event at the school, showed young children raising their right hands and shouting: "Go fight, Prime Minister Abe."

The children, also in unison, are captured reciting militaristic slogans at the event.

Instances regarding cases of child abuse at the notorious school were at one point under investigation.



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