Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Japan finance minister says files were altered

AFP, TOKYO

Japanese Minister of Finance Taro Aso answers questions during a news briefing at the finance ministry in Tokyo yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Japanese Minister of Finance Taro Aso yesterday said that official documents related to a favoritism scandal dogging Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been altered, but denied any plans to step down over the row.

Abe’s government has faced mounting pressure over the 2016 sale of state-owned land to one of his supporters at a price well below market value.

“Changing official documents is very grave and extremely regrettable, and I deeply apologize,” Aso said at a hastily convened news conference. “We are fully cooperating with the investigation.”

Aso blamed the changes on “some staff members” at the ministry, and said he had only learned about them on Sunday.

He dismissed suggestions that he resign over the scandal, saying: “I am not thinking about that at all.”

He said 14 changes had been made to the documents, but added that he did not believe the alterations were intended to protect Abe and his wife, Akie.

Versions of the original and the doctored documents published yesterday by opposition lawmakers appeared to show Abe’s name had been scrubbed, along with that of Akie and Aso.

“What became clear is that they debased democracy” by lying to the legislature, opposition lawmaker Renho said.

The documents were doctored to be “coherent” with a speech given in the legislature by former Japanese National Tax Agency director-general Nobuhisa Sagawa, who stepped down on Friday last week over the scandal, Ase said.

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

“It is possible that Sagawa ordered the alterations,” the Mainichi Shimbun said, citing government sources.

Abe has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to resign if he was found to be involved in the land deal.

However, a poll released published yesterday in the Yomiuri Shimbun showed his support dropping by 6 percentage points from last month to 48 percent, the first reading under 50 percent since he won re-election in October last year.

Eight out of 10 voters said the government was not responding appropriately to the allegations, according to the survey conducted over the weekend among 1,036 voters.

The allegations have also paralyzed the legislature in recent days, with some opposition lawmakers boycotting debates.

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