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Key figure refuses to testify on how documents were deliberately altered in Japan's shady land deal
Last Updated: 2018-03-27 14:32 | Xinhua
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JAPAN-TOKYO-LAND DEAL SCANDAL-SWORN WITNESS-DIET

Former head of the National Tax Agency Nobuhisa Sagawa (C L) appears as a sworn witness in the Diet, Japan's bicameral legislature, in Tokyo, Japan, March 27, 2018. A key figure in a document-tampering scandal involving Japan's Finance Ministry appeared in the Diet on Tuesday to give sworn testimony over the falsification of government documents related to the heavily discounted sale of state land to a nationalist school operator. Former national tax agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was previously in charge of taking care of the land sale, stepped down to take account for the confusion he had caused and was under fire for potentially lying in parliament while serving as director general of the ministry's Financial Bureau. (Xinhua/Ma Ping)

A key figure in a document-tampering scandal involving Japan's Finance Ministry on Tuesday refused to testify on exactly how the ministry's Financial Bureau had deliberately altered the documents.

During his sworn testimony Tuesday given to the House of Councillors' Budget Committee, former national tax agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa also refused to testify on when he personally became aware of the falsification.

He maintained that the papers were altered within his section, but added that there was no pressure from outside, including from the prime minister, his wife, or Finance Minister Taro Aso to amend the documents.

Sagawa said that the case is currently "subject to prosecutors' investigation and possible criminal prosecution."

While giving false testimony or refusing to testify can have legal implications, under Japanese law a witness can avoid giving testimony for fear of criminal prosecution.

After appearing as a sworn witness at the House of Councillors' Budget Committee on Tuesday morning, he will attend another session in the House of Representatives' panel in the afternoon.

Sagawa stepped down to take account for the confusion he had caused and was under fire for potentially lying in parliament while serving as director general of the ministry's Financial Bureau.

The Finance Ministry has conceded that 14 documents related to the land transaction were altered between late February and April last year after officials at the Financial Bureau ordered its regional bureau in Osaka to do so and insisted Sagawa play a key role.

Sagawa initially denied in parliament any instances of influence-peddling regarding the land sale and stated that there had been previous negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen over the land price prior to its sale.

He also said the ministry had ignored the negotiation records.

But it was later found that references to the prime minister, his wife Akie and other senior ministers, along with the negotiation records were included in the original documents.

Akie Abe was set to become honorary principle at the elementary school to be built on the state land sold to the school operator for just 14 percent of its appraisal value.

The documents were thereafter altered to presumably remove the names of the prime minister and his wife and other senior lawmakers from being disclosed in the Diet last year.

The Finance Ministry said the documents were altered so that they would be in line with Sagawa's testimony when he was being quizzed in the Diet.

Sagawa had been under pressure from opposition parties for allegedly making false parliamentary remarks while serving as director general of the ministry's Financial Bureau.

According to the opposition bloc, the documents were also altered after Abe said in February last year that he would resign as prime minister if either he or his wife were proven to have been complicit in the cronyism scandal.

Abe, Akie and Aso have all denied their involvement and any wrongdoing.

The opposition camp, however, are gearing up to summon Akie Abe and others to give testimony to conclude the protracted scandal, according to recent media polls.

Regarding the cronyism scandal, Tuesday marks the first sworn testimony has been given in the Diet since the nationalist school operator's former head, Yasunori Kagoike, was summoned in March last year.

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