insideaseaninsideasean about usabout us contact uscontact us site map
Asean & Global Updates
POSTED | 15:28 PM | 12-03-2018

Abe under fire over cronyism

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his close ally, Finance Minister Taro Aso, faced growing pressure on Monday (March 12, 2018) over a suspected cover-up of a cronyism scandal that has dogged the premier for more than a year.

Copies of documents seen by Reuters showed that references to Abe, his wife and Aso were removed from finance ministry records of the discounted sale of state-owned land to a school operator with ties to Abe’s wife, Akie.

Abe, now in his sixth year in office, has denied that he or his wife did favors for the school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, and has said he would resign if evidence was found that they had.

Excised references seen by Reuters did not appear to show that Abe or his wife intervened directly in the deal.

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). Victory in the LDP September leadership vote would put him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier.

The doubts are also putting pressure on Aso to resign.

“It could shake confidence in the administration as a whole. I strongly feel responsibility as the head of administration,” Abe told reporters after the finance ministry reported on the altered documents.

“I apologize to all of the people.”

Abe said he wanted Aso to make every effort to clarify all the facts and ensure such things do not happen again.

Aso told a separate news conference 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.

“It has become clear that there was a cover-up and falsification,” opposition Democratic Party leader Yuichiro Tamaki told reporters. He said Aso should resign and parliament hold hearings on the matter.

The 77-year-old Aso, who is also deputy premier and whose backing is vital for Abe, apologized for his ministry’s actions, but said that he had no intention of stepping down.

The risk for Aso and Abe, experts said, is that the suspected cover-up does more damage than the land sale itself.

“The cover-up is now a bigger issue than the original incident,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University.

A finance ministry official said that 14 items had been altered in the documents after February last year -- when the scandal broke -- at the instruction of the ministry’s financial division to match testimony in parliament.

One such reference was to Akie’s visit to the school at the heart of the suspected scandal. Also removed was a reference to ties by Abe and Aso to a conservative lobby group, Nippon Kaigi.

The records include a comment from Yasunori Kagoike, the former head of Moritomo Gakuen, citing Akie Abe as telling him: “This is good land so please proceed.”

A kindergarten run by Moritomo Gakuen taught a nationalist curriculum in line with views espoused by Nippon Kaigi.

A Sankei newspaper poll over the weekend said 71 percent of respondents said Aso should go.

On Friday, National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa resigned over remarks in parliament last year about the case.

In This Section
most read
Korean fever strikes Bhutan
Through the Thai royal lenses
Beauty is not skin deep
Surrogacy and Thai legality questions
China now the biggest source of foreign tourists to Boston
China now the biggest source of foreign tourists to Boston
A record number of Chinese tourists visited Boston last year, dethroning the United Kingdom as the No.1 source of overseas tourists.