Photo/IllutrationFinance Minister Taro Aso, center, answers questions at a news conference held in the Diet after a Cabinet meeting on March 6. (Takeshi Iwashita)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A high-ranking Finance Ministry official on March 6 angered both opposition and ruling lawmakers by refusing to answer questions concerning the suspected doctoring of ministry documents related to a shady land deal.

The Asahi Shimbun reported earlier that the documents were submitted to Diet members who were scrutinizing the sale of the state-owned land, but these copies were missing large passages from the ministry-approved originals (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201803020036.html).

At a meeting of the directors of the Upper House Budget Committee on March 6, Kazushige Tomiyama, deputy director-general of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, would not clearly say if the original documents still existed.

“We are now in a situation in which we cannot immediately confirm all documents,” Tomiyama said.

He also said he could not comment on whether the originals differed from the copies because prosecutors are now viewing the documents.

His responses threw the directors’ meeting into turmoil. The committee was unable to start deliberations although talks were scheduled to start at 9 a.m.

Opposition parties blasted Tomiyama for his conduct in the Diet.

“I’m stunned that he gave no answers,” Kotaro Tatsumi, a lawmaker of the Japanese Communist Party, said.

Even an executive of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party criticized the ministry official.

“I cannot understand why the ministry cannot show documents as requested for by the Diet,” LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said at a news conference.

The sale of the state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to school operator Moritomo Gakuen has dominated Diet discussions since last year. Opposition parties have suggested the school operator received a huge discount for the land because of its ties to first lady Akie Abe, and they had demanded the Finance Ministry release documents concerning the sale.

The original documents were created by a department handling public assets in the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau in Osaka.

During the directors’ meeting on March 6, the ministry submitted a paper titled, “Report on the situations of investigations.”

It did nothing to clear up the suspicions that the documents were altered before they were submitted to the Diet members.

“We want to proceed with our investigations, such as confirmation of documents and questioning of officials, by mobilizing the entire power of our ministry,” the paper said.

On whether the ministry still had the original documents, however, the paper read: “It is necessary to confirm many documents. But those documents are now subject to (prosecutors’) investigations.”

As for the questioning of officials, the paper said, “We need to conduct questioning while paying attention to the questioning made by investigative authorities (prosecutors).”

When pressed further by opposition parties about the original documents, Tomiyama said: “The final-approved documents concerning the sale and lease of the state-owned land are currently held by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office. If we call them the original documents, then the originals are not held by the Kinki Local Finance Bureau.”

Tomiyama would not even say if the documents were voluntarily submitted to prosecutors or seized by them.

“I will refrain from making a reply because this is related to (prosecutors’) investigations,” he said.

Tomiyama did say that prosecutors obtained the documents “before March 2 when the media reported (the suspected alterations).”

The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office has accepted criminal complaints about possible breach of trust on the part of the Kinki Local Finance Bureau and high-ranking Finance Ministry officials. They have also accepted criminal complaints about the possible destroying of evidence and discarding of official documents.

Takanori Kawai of the opposition Democratic Party said that if the ministry refuses to explain by saying that the documents have gone to prosecutors, then “we can do nothing until their investigations end.”