Photo/IllutrationNobuhisa Sagawa, the former director-general of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau, responds to questions in the Upper House Budget Committee on March 27. (Satoru Semba)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Nobuhisa Sagawa, former chief of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau, said politicians never ordered the falsification of documents in the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, but he refused to say if he was even aware of the alterations.

Sagawa appeared as the sworn witness at the Upper House Budget Committee on March 27 because he was director-general of the ministry’s bureau in 2017, when official documents about the lease and sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen were changed.

Opposition party lawmakers have long demanded answers on why Moritomo Gakuen received a sharp discount for the land on which it planned to open a private elementary school. Specifically, they raised questions on whether first lady Akie Abe’s connection with the former head of Moritomo Gakuen influenced the land deal.

Sagawa’s testimony failed to uncover any new facts about the deal.

Genjiro Kaneko, chairman of the Upper House Budget Committee, asked Sagawa if he was aware of the falsifications and why the documents were altered.

Sagawa repeatedly replied, “I would like to refrain from responding because there is the possibility I could face a criminal indictment.”

Sagawa explained that Osaka prosecutors had accepted criminal complaints to look into possible breach of trust and rewriting of official documents. He said he could incriminate himself if he gave answers about how the documents were rewritten.

Kaneko also asked Sagawa what kind of responsibility he felt for heading the bureau when the falsifications were carried out.

“I feel very sorry for bringing about a situation in which trust in the administrative branch has been shaken,” Sagawa said.

However, Sagawa did not hesitate to deflect any blame from top politicians, saying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his wife, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga never gave any instructions to rewrite the documents related to the land deal.

Tamayo Marukawa, an Upper House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, asked Sagawa if any instructions were given by Abe or his wife regarding the leasing arrangement and eventual sale of the land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen.

“I do not believe there was any influence on the part of the prime minister or his wife,” Sagawa responded.

Marukawa also touched upon Sagawa’s responses in the Diet in 2017, when he said all documents related to negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen over the land deal had been discarded.

She said the negotiation process would have been clear if Sagawa had simply confirmed the approved document compiled by Finance Ministry officials that explained the background to the land deal.

Sagawa apologized for not having been more careful in his Diet responses.

“I did not have the luxury of doing so because I was questioned every day (by Diet members) about the matter,” he said.

Sagawa was promoted to National Tax Agency chief after he appeared in the Diet last year. He resigned from the post earlier this month after The Asahi Shimbun reported that the documents had been falsified.

Sagawa was scheduled to appear as a sworn witness before the Lower House Budget Committee on the afternoon of March 27.