International News

    Scandal threatens Japan’s finance minister Taro Aso

    Japan’s opposition has demanded the resignation of finance minister Taro Aso as a festering scandal over the cut-price sale of public land to a nationalist school operator erupted again. The so-called Moritomo Gakuen scandal accelerated on Friday after the head of Japan’s tax agency resigned and a finance ministry official committed suicide. Opposition leaders said Mr Aso should take responsibility if allegations that his ministry submitted falsified documents to parliament are proven. The scandal has escalated to become the most serious threat to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s government in more than five years of government. Mr Abe himself could be at risk when he seeks another three years as Liberal Democratic party leader this autumn. “If the allegations [of document falsification] are true then the responsibility of the whole cabinet is in question,” said Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Party of Hope. Mr Tamaki said that if the finance ministry had accepted the resignation of tax agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa because of document fabrication, then “we must demand the resignation of Mr Aso as well”. Before taking the tax agency job, Mr Sagawa headed the finance ministry department responsible for answering parliamentary queries on the scandal. Mr Aso said the official had resigned to take responsibility for “confusion”. The scandal began in February 2017 when it emerged that Moritomo Gakuen, a controversial private school operator, had acquired public land for a new primary school in Osaka at a fraction of its market value. Moritomo Gakuen aimed to instil patriotism in small children with a curriculum harking back to prewar Japan, including a requirement to memorise the 1890 Imperial Rescript, which tells students to “offer yourselves courageously to the state”. The school had extensive links to senior LDP politicians, including the prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe. Mrs Abe was to be honorary principal of the new school and its intended name, at one point, was the “Shinzo Abe Memorial School”. Mr Abe came under heavy pressure over the scandal last summer but it died away when no evidence emerged linking him to the cut-price sale. However, it re-erupted this month when the Asahi newspaper alleged the finance ministry had altered documents on the sale submitted to parliament. “The finance ministry should cooperate completely with investigators and make every effort to show whether documents exist or not,” said Mr Abe on Saturday. According to local media reports, the finance ministry may admit changing the documents as early as Monday. On Friday, police reported the apparent suicide of a finance ministry official in Kobe. It is not clear whether the death is linked to the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, but the victim was reportedly a mid-level official in the department responsible for the land sale.


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