Japan gov't admits altering documents in Abe's wife cronyism scandal

Japan gov't admits altering documents in Abe's wife cronyism scandal

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga did not directly respond to a question by reporters about Mrs Abe but said Mr Aso should investigate the facts.

The government admitted on Monday that Finance Ministry documents related to a contract on the sale of a state land lot to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen at a deep discount were altered in and after late February past year in the wake of the revelation of the controversial deal.

"It's extremely regrettable and I apologise for this", Aso told reporters, when asked whether he felt responsible as head of the ministry involved in the alterations.

Media have said the alterations were made after February a year ago - when the suspected scandal broke - and that words describing the "special nature" of the deal were excised along with the names of several politicians and that of Akie.

Fourteen of the original documents were rewritten by the ministry, Aso said.

Before-and-after versions of the documents, seen by Reuters, do not appear to amount to a "smoking gun" showing direct intervention in the land sale by either Abe or his wife, Akie.

Aso is vital to the stability of his administration and key to his bid for a third term as LDP president in a September party election, which would pave the way for him to be Japan's longest-serving prime minister. Abe's name was used to solicit donations.

The Kyodo news agency, quoting ruling party lawmakers, reported on Monday that Aso - a veteran among G20 finance leaders - is considering skipping the meeting as opposition parties boycott parliamentary debate on next fiscal year's budget.

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Opposition parties have called for Aso, who doubles as deputy premier and is key to Abe's re-election hopes, to resign.

Akie Abe left her role at the school after the scandal broke in February 2017. In addition, Abe and Aso's names were nixed from an explanatory section about the school's ties with far-right pressure group Nippon Kaigi.

Moritomo Gakuen ran a kindergarten in Osaka known for espousing elements of the prewar nationalist curriculum, as well as for its explicit backing of Abe, and had planned to use the land for an elementary school.

Aso missing the G20 gathering would be the latest blow the scandal is inflicting on the Abe administration's agenda.

But Harris added: "It now seems to be more a question of whether Abe can manage an orderly exit at the end of his term in September or whether he'll resign hastily again - but I don't see how he can win a new mandate amidst the Abe fatigue that will surely grow after these revelations". The head of the National Tax Agency, Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was in charge of overseeing the sale, has also quit.

Sagawa was head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted a year ago to tax agency chief. "It is inconceivable that the bureaucrats on the spot had such authority (to alter the documents)", said LDP lawmaker Shigeru Ishiba, who has made no secret of his desire to challenge Mr Abe in the party race.

Abe, 63, swept back to power in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster Japan's defense.

A Yomiuri poll published March 11 showed Abe's cabinet approval rating fell by 6 percentage points from the previous month to 48 percent. Non-support rose to 42 percent and 80 percent said that the matter had not been handled appropriately.

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