THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
July 16, 2020 at 15:42 JST
OSAKA—After challenging two of the most powerful politicians in Japan, a self-described shy woman broke down in tears when she explained the last day of her husband’s life.
“On the morning of the day he died, he told me, ‘Thank you,’” Masako Akagi, 49, said about her husband, Toshio, a Finance Ministry official who committed suicide in March 2018. “His face the last time I saw him alive seemed to be crying and filled with despair.”
Masako made the comments on July 15 during the first oral arguments in her lawsuit at the Osaka District Court.
She is seeking about 107 million yen ($1 million) from the central government for instructing her husband to falsify documents as well as 5.5 million yen from Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau when the instructions were given.
But most of all, she wants answers from the central government about what led to Toshio’s death.
“Prime Minister Abe, Finance Minister (Taro) Aso, I want to know the truth,” Masako said during her 10 minutes of testimony.
Both the central government and Sagawa have submitted written requests to have the lawsuit thrown out.
The falsified documents were related to negotiations and the sale of state-owned land in Osaka Prefecture to Moritomo Gakuen, an educational institution that had close ties to Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Moritomo Gakuen received a huge discount for the land from the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, and the connection to the first lady was speculated as the reason.
But the government documents concerning the sale were later falsified to delete all references to Akie.
Toshio, who worked at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, was ordered to remove other references to the favorable treatment given to Moritomo Gakuen and did so in February 2017.
He stopped working after being diagnosed with depression in July 2017. Five days after the first report surfaced of the falsification of government documents, Akagi, 54, killed himself.
Toshio had written a will saying he would take responsibility by committing suicide.
“I believe my husband wanted to apologize through his death,” Masako said in court. “The notes he left behind were a written apology to the general public.”
She also said that Toshio’s superior at the time of his death had told her that her husband left behind a file that included details of the process behind the falsifications of the government documents.
But Masako said the investigation report compiled by the Finance Ministry to look into the falsifications made no mention of that file.
She also touched upon the reluctance of the central government, including Abe, to set up a third-party panel to conduct a new investigation.
The plaintiff said she wanted a new investigation to learn “what happened at the workplace where (my husband) worked so diligently and what he was made to do.”
Sagawa’s lawyers have said that past precedent makes clear that individual civil servants cannot be held accountable in compensation lawsuits stemming from illegal actions by bureaucrats.
Masako’s lawsuit claims that Sagawa abused the powers of his position and acted illegally not as a civil servant but as a private individual.
The next court session is scheduled for Oct. 14. Lawyers for the central government said they would submit documents by then to explain their arguments.
After her court appearance, Masako held a news conference and vowed to continue fighting on behalf of her late husband. She kept a photo of Toshio by her side during the news conference.
Masako said she was always shy about speaking in front of others.
When asked how she thought Toshio would have reacted if he had seen her court appearance, Masako said, “I believe he would have been very surprised.”
She explained that she has kept up the legal battle because of the huge regret she felt about not being able to help her husband.
She has started an internet petition drive seeking a new investigation into the falsification of documents. About 350,000 people signed up in three months.
Masako also explained that those unable to use the internet have mailed written petitions and letters that have provided great support to her efforts.
Top government officials in Tokyo declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he could not discuss the matter because the central government was a defendant in the ongoing case.
When asked by reporters on July 15 if he planned to call for a new investigation into the falsifications, Abe said nothing.
(This article was compiled from reports by Takashi Endo, Yuto Yoneda and Itsuki Soeda.)
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