Photo/IllutrationRuling and opposition party directors of the Upper House Budget Committee on March 8 discuss how to handle documents related to the sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Outraged opposition parties demanding answers in a land-sale scandal boycotted the Diet on March 8 after the Finance Ministry submitted documents identical to previously released files that are believed to have been doctored.

The Upper House Budget Committee session was supposed to have cleared up suspicions about whether ministry documents that approved the leasing and sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen had been altered.

Specifically, the opposition lawmakers wanted to see the original documents and compare them to the ones that they had already read.

The ministry instead submitted copies of the same documents to a directors meeting of the Budget Committee held before the session, prompting opposition lawmakers to accuse the ministry of orchestrating a cover-up and trying to buy time.

Members of various opposition parties, including the Democratic Party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party, boycotted the subsequent Upper House Budget Committee session.

During the directors meeting, opposition members pressed Kazushige Tomiyama, deputy director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau, on whether the ministry had other related documents besides those submitted.

“These are all the copies currently kept at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau,” Tomiyama said.

But he would not say if any other documents existed.

“The precondition for the deliberations have crumbled because there was no denial of the possibility that the copies submitted were created after the alterations were made,” said Kotaro Tatsumi, a director from the JCP.

The copies presented to the meeting included a document compiled in May 2015 that approved the leasing arrangement with Moritomo Gakuen and another compiled in June 2016 to approve the sale of the state-owned land.

The Asahi Shimbun reported last week that the documents--now twice submitted to the opposition lawmakers--did not contain some portions written in the original documents.

For example, terms such as “the contents will be an exceptional case” did not appear in the submitted documents.

These copies were first presented to the Diet after the Asahi in February 2017 reported about the sharp discount given to Moritomo Gakuen for the state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

Moritomo Gakuen had planned to operate a private elementary school on the land. First lady Akie Abe had been named honorary principal of the school, fueling speculation that the discount was a political favor.

Despite the opposition boycott, members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, junior coalition partner Komeito and opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) attended the Upper House Budget Committee session on March 8.

Questioning of government officials proceeded in the chamber, with empty seats in the opposition section.

In response to a question from the LDP’s Toru Miki, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has denied any involvement in the land deal by himself or his wife, said: “I want the Finance Ministry to make the maximum effort so it can explain itself as early as possible. The government will handle this matter in a sincere manner.”

A Democratic Party lawmaker was scheduled to ask questions after Miki. But given the opposition boycott, Abe and other government officials sat in their seats and waited for the time allotted to the Democratic Party to expire.

A Komeito member then stood up to ask questions as the session continued.

High-ranking opposition party members met periodically outside of the Budget Committee room to discuss what steps to take.

A separate meeting was held to question Finance Ministry officials about the existence of documents related to the Moritomo Gakuen land sale, but those officials said they could not respond at the current time.